If you are looking for the perfect blend of friendship, war and uplifting storytelling, look no further. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir draws you into a community of wonderful, inspiring women that you will want as real-life friends.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir opens in 1941 when most of the men in Chilbury village have been called up to fight for Britain during the Second World War. As a result, the vicar of the local church disbands the choir until the end of the war – or so he thinks.
When Miss Primrose Trent, a charismatic music professor, comes to town, she is determined that the women should continue singing despite the grief that surrounds them, and her taste for defiance quickly reincarnates the village choir. After convincing the vicar, she brings together the women of the town and what started as a choir becomes a place of support none of them could’ve imagined.
Unlike war novels that focus on the men and their hardship, Jennifer Ryan shows what it was like for the women they left behind and the struggle to know you’re loved ones were out fighting or had died fighting for your safety. It’s doesn’t focus on the war itself or the holocaust, but rather what it was like to be stuck at home, in a place of risk, not knowing what the day might bring. Each women is heavily affected by the war in some way, from Kitty and Venetia who lost their brother in a submarine explosion, to Sylvia the Jewish evacuee and Mrs Tilling who watches her son leave for the battlefield. Each learn to lean on each other and realise surviving through the onslaught of war is not only about courage but also friendship.
This book is delightful in its use of multiple voices. By being told through the diary entries and letters of each of the ladies instead of your typical narration and dialogue, you are taken into the heart, gossip and mind of each woman in a simply beautiful and unique way. It’s a small glimpse into each woman’s story, with the right amount of intrigue to keep you flicking through the pages. Without focusing heavily on one character, Chilbury Ladies Choir becomes a story of a community, rather than one persons journey.
And with such a diverse range of characters, it’s easy to fall in love with this little community. Each woman has their own sense of humour and wit, their own resentments and petty nature, and they all experience tragedy and love. From the unethical midwife Edwina Paltry and the uptight Mrs Brigadier, to the flirty Venetia and her thirteen-year-old sister naïve sister Kitty, these characters are not easy to forget, and most are a tribute to female empowerment.
Despite being an uplifting novel in most ways, prepare to have tissues at the ready. It’s an inspiring story at times, but also somber, full of heartbreak and grief. Jennifer Ryan creates a world we invest in so whole-heartedly. Death, despite being expected due to the war, still surprises. This is a novel that will make you smile and blow your nose simultaneously.
Chilbury Ladies Choir is the perfect read to curl up with on a rainy day. Make yourself a tea, get your tissue box in arms length and settle in because once you meet these women, you won’t want to say goodbye.
Jennifer Ryan grew up in Kent. She was inspired to write The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, her first novel, by the extraordinary and often scandalous stories about life during the war told by her jovial grandmother, a prodigious storyteller and lover of that wartime favourite, the Pink Gin. Many of the characters’ stories in the book are based on real life, discovered through Jennifer’s extensive research and her grandmother’s experiences.
Jennifer now lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two children, where she previously worked as a non-fiction book editor.