A sense of responsibility— or was it guilt?— hung over me, that I was in some way at fault because of cowering to all these pompous men all these years, when I should have had the bravery to reclaim my own mind. That if we women had done this years ago, before the last war, before this one, we’d be in a very different world.
~ Jennifer Ryan, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
“Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!”
As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead ‘carry on singing’. Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir”, the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.
Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit — a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn’t understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past — we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir’s collective voice reverberates in her individual life.
In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
Published by Crown Publishing Group (February 14, 2017)
Genre: Literary Fiction / Historical Fiction / Epistolary Novel
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Kindle, 384 pages
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Review of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Shaffer and Annie Barrows, the story written by Jennifer Ryan in The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is similarly based on letters and diary and journal entries. Through these epistles written by Ryan’s characters we are told a story of a group of women who dared to take on their church vicar who thought the choir should disband since there were no men left to sing the male voice parts.
Led by a strong-willed music professor in the character of Primrose Trent, the women come together and through shared effort and struggles The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is born during the early days of World War II in England. Fears, apprehension, and loneliness mark the women’s days and their letter and journal entries.
Drawing the women together into the choir creates a community of support and encouragement. Fears are shared. The pain of missing sons who have left for war can be talked about with other mothers. Wives can share their struggles without their husbands at home. And then there is the joy of the music–bring lovely sounds to the air when all else seems to be fall at their feet.
Ryan develops her characters to the fullest. These characters are realistic, each with a unique personality. Some characters may clash from time to time, but all in all the women basically get along and help one another in times of need.
The book is based on the author’s grandmother’s stories of a choir she sang with during World War II, and stories of the freedoms women had because of the war. Ryan’s début novel blends humor, warmth, sorrow and depth in a sensitive and beautiful way.
If you read and enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Society and Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War, you will enjoy reading The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. The women and their stories will stay with you for days to come.
Meet Jennifer Ryan
Born in a village in Kent, just south of London in the UK, my childhood was one of gallivanting around the countryside, often on bikes, climbing trees, cobbling dams over trickling streams, launching attacks on neighborhood factions, and eating cheese and tomato rolls in red telephone boxes to shelter from the rain. It is these memories, the pale English sunshine, the scent of lavender, honeysuckle, rose mingling with freshly cut grass, the sound of birds and bees and balls on tennis courts, that fill in the background of my stories, forming a full setting of a living, moving world.
After school and college, I worked as an editor for nonfiction books in London, and as my editing and writing became stronger, I began to thread my way into writing fiction. But it was once I had married and moved to Washington, DC, that I began to write voraciously, and when I took time off work to have children, I found the space and time to write my first novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. It took five years of hearty researching, writing, and reworking, and I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I loved creating it.
The novel was is published by Crown Publishing in the US and HarperCollins UK, and by publishers in 12 different countries around the world. The TV rights have been optioned by Carnival, the makers of Downton Abbey.
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