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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Couldn't put it down!
I loved this book!! At first I wasn't sure about the individual journal entries to tell the story, but I quickly realized it was an amazing way to connect with each character. Very well told and poignant story during a tragic time in history and how coping during the war brought out strengths in the women they didn't know they had. I would highly recommend this book!!
a quieter and subtly complex story that introduces characters, conflicts, resolutions and community
Chilbury is a small village in Kent, with all of the dramas, intrigues and community that one would expect. But there’s one small hiccup: at the onset of war, the Vicar has decided that the choir, now bereft of male voices because of the volunteers and call ups, will be disbanded until the “boys come home”. This becomes the story of the women of the choir, and their efforts to keep that one bit of community alive in a time when they feel it is most necessary, despite the lack of support from their vicar.
Told in a series of letters and diary entries, this story is not wonderful because of the ‘newness’ of the subject, nor are the characters we meet full of bonhomie and good will. These are ordinary women, faced with extraordinary circumstances and changes that rock the foundations of all they know, as they struggle to survive and support the war effort from home. Thrust into positions that they are unprepared for, these women are learning as they go: running households, farms, shops and their communities. This doesn’t make them saints, they all have a solid streak of ‘get on with it, even as they all show they are human and subject to worries, cares and uncharitable thoughts.
What emerges is a highly personalized version of those left behind during the war: the struggles they faced, the personal challenges they overcame and the knowledge gained that forever changed them, and their country. Each character is carefully developed and explored: you hear their voices, you can picture their lives and worries, and a full image of the story and the moments arise with the author’s careful insertions of history, scenery and people. A book that draws you in and demands attention, yet allows you to savor the moments, reveling as if on a quiet bench looking on. I’ve read it 3 times in the six months I’ve had it available, and just want to dive back in again! If you enjoy a quieter and subtly complex story that introduces characters, conflicts, resolutions and community with equal attention paid, this is the book for you. Certainly one of my favorites for the year.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.