REVIEW: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Kent, 1940.

In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.

But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.

Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.

Uplifting and profoundly moving, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.

 

“Perhaps there is something good that has come from this war: everything has been turned around, all the unfairness made grimly plain. It has given us everyday women a voice—dared us to stand up for ourselves, and to stand up for others.” 

I was eager to read this book after seeing it compared to The Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society, which is one of my favourite books. Unfortunately, this meant that I was constantly comparing the two books and I initially found it hard to immerse myself in the novel. After 50 pages, however, I was completely swept away by this delightful tale exploring the strength of women during wartime and how they eventually find their voices. 

“I took a deep breath of the syrupy sweetness of summer, suffused with bees and birds, and I thought to myself how beautiful this world can be. How lucky we are to be here, to be part of it, for however long we have.”

I have a weakness for epistolary novels and was delighted to discover this book took the form of letters, diaries, and town notices. Jennifer Ryan was apparently inspired by the Mass Observation project, which was set up to encourage ordinary people to keep diaries and journals of their wartime life. These were then sent to the Mass Observation society in monthly instalments and archived. You can find out more about the project here: http://www.massobs.org.uk.

“And I realized that this is what it’s like to be an adult, learning to pick from a lot of bad choices and do the best you can with that dreadful compromise. Learning to smile, to put your best foot forward, when the world around you seems to have collapsed in its entirety, become a place of isolation, a sepia photograph of its former illusion.”

The story takes place over six months in 1940 and features five main characters. Thirteen-year-old Kitty wants to be a singer, her older sister Venetia desires romance, Silvie is a young Jewish evacuee trying to adapt to her new surroundings, Edwina Paltry is a morally dubious midwife, and Mrs Tilling is a nurse with a son away fighting. Despite the relatively short time period, the war has created such an intense environment that the characters undergo quite a rapid amount of personal growth. I especially enjoyed the development of Venetia and Mrs Tilling, as they explored their identities and what they wanted out of life. 

I can’t wait to read further books by debut-author Jennifer Ryan. I loved the beautiful relationships and friendships Jennifer explored, and the strength the characters found in each other and themselves.

I would definitely recommend this book – SING FOR CHILBURY!

(Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads)

About the Author

 Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from London, she was previously a non-fiction book editor. She was awarded the 2015 Outstanding Graduate Award from John Hopkins and has had short stories published in literary journals. The Chilbury Ladies Choir is her first novel.

 

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