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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan.

May 4, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan.  New York: Crown Publishers, 2017.

4 stars

A touching book set in an English village during World War II about women who learn their own strength as they face losses and hardships together.

Jennifer Ryan was born in Kent and later moved to Washington, D.C.  She has worked as an editor.  This is her first novel.  She credits her grandmother for telling stories about how English village women came together during World War II. She is not the Jennifer Ryan who has written numerous western romances.  I wish she had used a middle name or initial to distinguish herself.

As World War II broke out, the church choir in the southern English village of Chilbury lost all its male singers.  Rather than let the vicar shut down the choir, the women of the village came together to keep the songs coming.  In doing so, they also came together around personal problems of romance and motherhood and the bombs and warfare that threatened the whole village

The Chilbury Ladies Choir is a simple narrative organized around fictional diaries, journal entries, and letters which the women and men of Chilbury wrote in 1940.  The characters are believable and interesting although the plot is sometimes unrealistic.  The book is easy and entertaining reading.  For me it is the best kind of “comfort reading.”  It also offers insights on how people respond to major disruptions in their lives.  Some of the characters are generous, capable of reaching out to others in need. For example one of the women reaches out to gay men in ways that are new for her.  Tragedies happen, as can be expected in war, but the women turn to each other. Some of them grow out of their former docility into strong, competent individuals. Although the women remain gentle and unassuming, a subtle feminism runs through the text.

I recommend this book to readers looking for pleasant, insightful fiction.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2017 2:38 am

    Hi Marilyn:)
    There’s been a bit of trend here in Australia and in Britain for TV programs showcasing the role of women in the war, including on the home front and this book sounds as if it could have been an episode of one them.
    It’s bizarre really, because Australia (like the US because we fight the same wars), has been at war now for decades but unless a veteran is killed or injured, there’s no impact on the home front at all. Unlike during the Vietnam War, our TV news only rarely reports on what’s going on, and there’s no deprivation such as rationing or being drafted for a land army or factory work.
    Yet we get these nostalgic books and TV shows about how different it was in WW2!

    • May 6, 2017 11:03 am

      Yes. I have noticed the same thing here. Perhaps we crave conflict that we can put into sharp good and bad categories rather than the nebulous threats we face today,

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