… “I proposed to the Vicar that the village’s dear choir should become a women’s only choir.”
“And how exactly did you do that?” Mrs. B. asked in her usual condescending way.
“I explained that now that there’s a war going on, we’re far more in need of a choir that ever before. We need to be able to come together and sing, to make wonderful music and help ourselves through this dreadful time.” She paused, turning toward a tall candle beside her so that its flickers reflected thoughtfully in her eyes. “Some of us remember the last war, the endless suffering and death it caused. It is time for us women to do what we can as a group to support each other and keep our spirits up. Just because there are no men, it doesn’t mean we can’t do it by ourselves.”
Miss Primrose Trent, a professor of music and a choir-mistress arrives just in time at Chilbury to save the village choir! The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is set in Chilbury, a small village in Kent during a six-months time span from March to August in 1940. At the start of the novel, even though the nazis have not reached the village yet, the lives of those left behind – the women, the children, and a handful of men – are far from happy as they dread of whose demise they will hear next. But Miss Primrose’s arrival would change the lives of the women in the choir. They will learn to find joy in little things, become more confident of themselves. And they will spread the joy of music, not only in Chilbury but also in war-trodden villages nearby.
The story in The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is told through journal entries and letters that are written by the ladies in the choir. At the backdrop, we see all the village gossip and drama which lead to subplots in the novel, and I enjoyed them immensely. But because the novel is told from the perspective of five women, sometimes things were repetitive. And I found Kitty, the youngest narrator in the novel to be a bit too mature for her age. When Miss Primrose tells her about Taj Mahal, Kitty asks her “Can you imagine loving someone so much that you create such a wonderful building?” Also, in her journal, Kitty complains about the lack of men in the village due to war! I had a hard time imaging a thirteen-year-old girl would feel that way!
Having said that, I must say I loved journal entries by Mrs. Tilling. She had lost her husband to World War I and with her only child, David having joined the army, she is quite inconsolable at first. But with the resurrection of the choir, she transforms and becomes an independent woman – no longer a timid mere-nurse, standing up for her beliefs and fighting for them.
Furthermore, I was thrilled to see Operation Dynamo being a part of this book. I am a history buff and the Dunkirk evacuation, where not only the military but even civilians with boats risked their lives and joined the rescue mission that would save the lives of 338,226 soldiers is one of my favorites parts of World War II history. So reading how villagers from Chilbury went to Dover to help the troops was very touching!
For a debut, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is charming. I would not say it is excellent as Atonement or The Book Thief – two of my favorite books set during World War II, as The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir lacks the depth of emotions those two books have. Nonetheless, if you are a fan of historical fiction, this will be a good pick. 🙂