Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Not surprisingly, I follow a lot of "bookish" sites on Facebook. A few months ago one of them was promoting this book, saying it was for people who liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I absolutely loved both of those books, so I figured this would be a book I would want to read. It certainly was.

WWII continues to be a popular setting for novels, and I've noticed a new trend within that WWII trend. This is the second book I've read in the last few months about the strength and resilience of the women left behind while the men had all gone off to war. In a time when women were often still thought to be weaker, and less than their husbands, these women showed what they were made of, and kept things running at home.

Set in Chilbury, England in the spring and summer of 1940, it is an epistolary novel, told from the letters and journals of several ladies (and occasionally a man) from the town. The women are told that with the men gone, their choir will need to be disbanded. However, they want to continue singing so they form a ladies-only choir under the leadership of Prim, a woman fairly new to the town. We read the perspectives of women with sons at the front, young ladies with dreams of love, and a midwife forced into a morally challenging situation. They are amazing women who don't always know their inner strength, but as they face each challenging situation, they rise to to occasion and find what they need to carry on.

Through it all, they gain strength from each other and from singing together in a choir. As they join together in that way, they learn to rely on each other in ways they wouldn't have considered in peace time. The choir brings them together and gives meaning to their lives in a time when that meaning was hard to find.

It's a lovely book. There are sad times, there are frustrating times, there are heartbreaking times. But the women of Chilbury face them all together. It is a great summer read, I highly recommend it.

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