NATIONAL BESTSELLER • “A delightful debut.”—People
For readers of Lilac Girls and The Nightingale, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir unfolds the struggles, affairs, deceptions, and triumphs of a village choir during World War II.
As England becomes enmeshed in the early days of World War II and the men are away fighting, the women of Chilbury village forge an uncommon bond. They defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to close the choir and instead “carry on singing,” resurrecting themselves as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. We come to know the home-front struggles of five unforgettable choir members: a timid widow devastated when her only son goes to fight; the older daughter of a local scion drawn to a mysterious artist; her younger sister pining over an impossible crush; a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia hiding a family secret; and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past.
An enchanting ensemble story that shuttles from village intrigue to romance to the heartbreaking matters of life and death, Jennifer Ryan’s debut novel thrillingly illuminates the true strength of the women on the home front in a village of indomitable spirit.
In 1940, at a time when women's roles were still firmly rooted in home and hearth, the ladies of Chilbury, England, find themselves at the bleeding edge of progress as the ramifications of World War II begin to infiltrate their little town. The men of Chilbury head to battlefields, and the village choir becomes the first casualty of the war. When a female professor of music insists the choir can be reassembled as a ladies' choir, the small community is at first scandalized by such an idea. But this is soon lost to other more salacious events. There is the brigadier who hires an unscrupulous midwife to swap his baby girl for a boy, and his teenage daughter seduces a handsome artist who's come to town under mysterious circumstances. An upstanding single woman (a widow whose only son has gone to fight) is tapped to take a colonel into her home, and a 10-year-old Czech evacuee finds out what happened to her family. As the war advances on Chilbury, even more lives are changed when a German bomb kills a young mother as well as the choir mistress, young men are sent off to war, and spies and black market profiteers lurk in the quiet lanes. Told in the form of diaries and letters in the voices of the female characters, Ryan's novel, reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, captures the experience of the war from a woman's perspective. Readers may have come across this kind of story before, but the letter/diary format works well and the plot elements satisfyingly come together.