Happy Literary Friday, Y'all! This week I read one of the best books: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan. The book is based on the organization known as Mass Observation (a United Kingdom social research organization) that encouraged ordinary citizens to keep diaries journaling their observations and thoughts during the war years. The story is told from multiple viewpoints in the form of letters, journal entries, and even church notices. The structure reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, but the setting isn't the Nazi-occupied channel islands. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is set in Kent, just miles across the English Channel from Nazi-occupied France. Ryan clearly researched her topic extensively because there are so many wonderful historical details in the novel.
According to Goodreads:
"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 girls and women of the Chilbury Ladies' Choir are well-drawn characters who know how to get things done. Most of them are heroes by any standard, and the rest are shouldering their war responsibilities with steadfast determination and grace. Although the ladies are the stars of the village, there are also several strong, well-developed male characters who are very surprising, and not always in a positive way.
The setting takes place between March 26 and September 6, 1940. This is my only criticism of the book because I'm invested in these ladies' stories, and there are still a couple of questions left unanswered. There is a shocking scene in the book I wasn't expecting because a couple of the main characters are killed. That's why I'm wondering about the fates of the other characters especially since several are transferred to London. But I understand why Ryan chose September 6 for the last day of the setting: The Blitzkrieg began September 7, 1940.
Sophie, the young Jewish refugee, is one of my favorite members of the choir. She's traumatized because of what's she's witnessed firsthand in Europe, and her story and character are fascinating. The growth of all the women are inspiring during these short months especially the sisters Venetia and Kitty. If you enjoy World War II historical fiction, family drama, romance, intrigue, action, and unique characters, then you'll enjoy The Chilbury Ladies' Choir. I couldn't put it down!
Note: Ryan said that the diary of Nell Last helped her understand the war years. You may read more about her incredible diary HERE.
Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Until next time...