Review – The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan

This is a book about hope, about that great British spirit we’re taught about in schools, about loss, about music and about secrecy.

My Review

I began this book thinking I was going to leave a wholly negative review. The book is comprised of a series of letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings. This isn’t a particularly novel approach to this time period and initially I couldn’t see what this approach added to the experience and to the story. But Ryan explains in her acknowledgements about how people in wartime were encouraged to write journals and the like, and in fact, upon reflection, the letters help to set the time period as this would have been how people communicated, particularly in such a small village.

I also began this book thinking it would be a Call the Midwife-esque story line where yes bad things happen but in the end everyone learns something and there’s a happy ending. To some extent that is true, but, without spoiling anything, there are moments far more heart wrenching than that. Though the writing style is on occasion a bit clunky, failing to capture the distinct voices of the wide range of characters that make up a small English village, nonetheless Ryan manages to craft a series of intriguing and delectable personal stories, all of which are totally believable in the context of Britain in the Second World War. Yes, some of them could come across a little far fetched if this were just a novel about an English country village, but the context of the beginning of war and the very real threat of German invasion which was felt keenly at that time make the heightened drama and emotions all the more plausible.

I laughed, I shook my head in disbelief, I gasped in shock, I bawled like a baby and I found myself strangely uplifted by this story of the resilience of women who found themselves suddenly without the men whom they loved and on whom they depended. The journey of realised potential in several of the characters is expertly done, their development is not so subtle that it is almost nonexistent, nor is it so obvious as to feel forced.

My critique of this book, other than the occasional lack of narrative voice, is that it takes a bit of time to really get into the action. I appreciate the need for scene setting but I think I needed to understand the importance of the location to the war effort to really appreciate why Chilbury was simultaneously a small English village and an important military location. The other thing I felt wasn’t taken into consideration was faith, so much of the important moments in this story take place in a church and this was a time in which the faith of people in Britain was arguably quite strong. I can understand why an author might not choose to make faith an important aspect, but I didn’t feel that it was given the place in society that it ought to have had.

My rating: 3.5-4 stars


I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

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