Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Heart-Warming and Heart-Wrenching Novel Set in WWII Britain

Jennifer Ryan
Crown Publishing Group
February 14, 2017

It's 1940 in the Kent village of Chilbury and the village has just suffered its first war-related loss, that of Edmund Winthrop, torpedoed in his submarine. It can't be said that there is great mourning, as young Edmund was a scoundrel and a bully. Not even his father, the brutal Brigadier Winthrop, is much saddened, other that he now lacks an heir. He has two daughters, the beautiful Venetia and irrepressible 13-year-old Kitty, but they cannot inherit. Luckily, the Brigadier's wife is pregnant. Of real interest to the ladies of Chilbury is the decision of the Vicar to disband the choir. All the men of the village are gone to war and one can't have a choir without men! All that changes with the arrival of Primrose Trent, a new music tutor from London who means to resurrect the choir.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is an epistolary novel, told in journal entries, letters and notices. The story revolves around the writers; the middle-aged widow Mrs.Tilling, Venetia and Kitty Winthrop, the conniving midwife Edwina Paltry, and Silvie, a refugee Jewish child. It is by turns funny and heart-breaking. The ladies of the choir provide support for those who suffer the loss of husbands and sons in the War and in lifting their voices, also find their voices. Many lives are changed and nothing will ever be quite the same in Chilbury or Britain.

I usually shy away from epistolary novels but the letters and journals are employed to great effect in The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan. The multiplicity of characters are so well described in the entries and I felt that I could take the true measure of the writers in their own words. This novel is a feast for those who love character-driven stories. I have always been in awe of the women of Britain, and those in America, who stepped up to the plate and kept things running at home so well during World War II. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is the best novel I have read in 2017 and I suspect that it will be one of my top reads for the year.

Many thanks to the First To Read program for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 5 Stars

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