“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 homefront, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.
The Chilbury Ladies' Choir tells the story of a small village in England at the start of World War II. As the men have gone off to war, life changes for the women in the village. The choir is disbanded, but a newcomer to the village, Prim (Primrose), opens it again - as a ladies choir.
This exceptional debut novel depicts the lives of the women of Chilbury together in the choir, and separately. Each short chapter is told from a different viewpoint - journals, letters, diaries. With this format I expected The Chilbury Ladies' Choir to be a leisurely read with a lot of quiet introspection. Instead, the book took off with two very dramatic storylines that caught my attention. One involved a beautiful young woman from a prominent family who found romance with a mysterious new man in town. The other involved a midwife who would do anything for money. I stayed up reading late at night and finished work early one day to read more as well; this was a novel I could not put down.
The author does an exceptional job with characterization. There are some remarkable characters here, like Mrs. Tilling, a widow who is better at nurturing others than herself, and Sylvie, a young girl who is a Jewish war refugee.
Most of all, this book has so much heart. It is such a beautiful and ultimately uplifting novel about the power of the human spirit, the depth of good and purpose that ordinary people can find, and the joy of connection.
The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is a truly outstanding historical novel. I still find myself thinking of the characters and the stories in this book as I go about my day. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor.