Review written by Mary Jedlicka Humston
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan, has a unique format. It is told entirely by the letters and diaries of five women and girls. That interesting aspect alone would appeal to both of us Marys, who are letter-writers-extraordinaire, but the multitudes of friendship stories Ryan weaves throughout the novel also draws us in.
Middle-aged Mrs. Tilling writes in her journal. Letters from Miss Edwina Paltry to her sister Clara reveal an underbelly of deceit and plotting. Venetia Winthrop’s letters to Angela Quail show their growth from twittering flirts to mature young women. Young Silvie, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia, keeps a minimal diary. And, then there’s impetuous and curious Kitty Winthrop who fills her diary with teenaged musings while trying to understand the changes war brings to her hometown.
“You need to find where you fit in this world, where you are happiest, where you can make a difference. And, don’t be afraid of change.” (pg. 364).
This comment from Kitty, 13, “almost 14” as she continually reminds everyone, becomes a basic theme of the novel. With the men of the community off to war, the vicar declares the church choir defunct. The women are concerned about losing their singing community until they realize they can create a choir themselves if they overcome the uncertainty of establishing such an unprecedented proposition.
“Well, I don’t think we were doing very well at all until one spring day the new choirmistress arrived and got us singing again. She resurrected the choir, making it a women’s-only choir—the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. It seemed such an unthinkable idea at first, but then we won a competition and realized how much better we were, and how we could transform ourselves into a charity singing show, or anything we liked. Well, after that we all began looking around and realizing we could do a lot of things better by ourselves, or with the help of each other, and together we became stronger, better: A force to be reckoned with.” (Kitty, pg. 368).
The five ladies’ letters and diaries relate the stories about the choir and war life. They show how the entire community pulls together despite hardship, loneliness, death, challenge, and sadness.
I highly recommend this book. The reader will definitely be swept along by its riveting storyline.