|Image from Goodreads|
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 home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.
When I started this book I was sure I wasn't going to like it. Two of the characters were pretty horrible people right off the bat and I almost didn't even want to continue reading about them. But, I thought about The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield; I almost quit reading because I didn't like two of the characters but I ended up loving the book at the end. So I kept going, and I'm pretty glad I did. There were things that bothered me but the good far out weighed the bad.
The way the characters change over the course of the story is my favorite part of this book. I would say that there are four 'main' characters, Kitty, Venetia, Mrs. Tilling, and Edwina Paltry. Three of those four go through significant growth over the course of the story and that more than anything is what drives the story.
Kitty, who is 13 and the daughter of the Brigadier, really grows up through the year the book covers. She goes from being jealous of her older sister (Venetia) to realizing that she can be special on her own. She is loyal and honest and desperate to prove that she is just as good as Venetia, whom everyone seems to love, and I think she comes to realize that she doesn't have to prove that she's important to anyone, she just has to start believing in herself. Her relationship with Venetia really changes as Kitty comes to believe in herself and Venetia becomes less self-centered.
Venetia is my favorite character and she probably changes the most though the story. Her story is a sad one, and I will admit I was surprised that I was as okay as I was with what happened to her. When we first encounter her she's pretty self-centered, obnoxious, your basic beautiful 18 year-old who thinks she owns the world. She manages to seduce a painter who has recently moved to town and finds herself deeply in love. I have to admit, the love story was a bit hard to believe since even Venetia herself admits she knows absolutely nothing about him and he refuses to tell her even the smallest things about himself. I had to over look the holes in the love story to keep reading but it was worth it. Anyway, Venetia ends up pregnant and before she can tell her lover he disappears, leaving her thinking the worst; he's either dead after an air raid or run off as a Nazi spy. Venetia agrees to marry in order to cover up her indiscretion, but her fiance finds out about her condition and, well, lets just say he's not happy and he lets her know.
Venetia ends up miscarrying. However, with the tone of the book, and everything that happens, it's not unexpected. From pretty early on in her pregnancy I got the feeling it was going in that direction, so when it happened I was not shocked. It wasn't the slap in the face that the miscarriage was in another book I read recently, and i feel like it was a big part of her growth. The realization that her actions can have severe consequences, and that she's not invincible, bad things can happen to her, really contributed to her change in attitude. Not that I think she deserved it, by any means. No one deserves that, but it definitely changed her.
Mrs. Tilling's change was more subtle. She starts the story out quiet and meek, and ends by really coming into her own. She learns that her voice is important and that she has a lot to contribute to the village. I love how things end up for her. I don't want to spoil her story by saying too much about her but I really liked her.
I loved the attitude of all the women in the village of 'keeping calm and carrying on' and 'stiff upper lip' and all that. They really come together and keep going in the face of all their husbands and sons being gone for the war. I was really disappointed that we didn't get to find out what happened to Mrs. Tilling's son. David. Once he leaves for the war we never hear from him again and at the end of the book it's not even 1941 yet and the war is still going strong.
This was a good, intriguing read, with great characters who really made it successful for me. 3.75 out of 5 stars.
I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review. The cover image and blurb are both from Goodreads.