Chilbury Ladies' Choir (Ryan)

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir 
Jennifer Ryan, 2017
384 pp.

Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!
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
  ♦ 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 homefront, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Jennifer Ryan is a novelist and nonfiction editor. Her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir was released in 2017.

Ryan, was born in a small village in Kent in the UK, which afforded her a near idyllic childhood. As she writes on her website, those early years were spent…

gallivanting around the countryside, often on bikes, climbing tress...and eating cheese and tomato rolls in red telephone boxes to shelter from the rain.

She writes of the scent of lavender and roses and freshly mown grass, memories that permeate settings for her stories.

Ryan attended college, and afterward became an editor for nonfiction books in London. As she gained more experience editing and writing, she eventually found the courage to try fiction. Once she married and took off time to have children, she was able to carve out time to develop her first novel, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.

That novel is based on stories from her grandmother, who was 20 when World War II began. She recalls bumping into people during the blackouts, singing in air raid shelters, and the relishing the freedom many women felt with the men absent in the war. And, of course, her grandmother belonged to a choir.

Ryan has moved to the Washington, DC, area with her husband and children. (Adapted from the author's website.)

Book Reviews
Though their vicar thinks it is quite preposterous, the womenfolk of Chilbury band together to form a Ladies’ Choir as World War II begins. Most of the men have departed from their coastal village to fight the Nazis. The ladies still long to lift their voices in song and so the choir is born.… [T]hat was the beauty of this book — the music. I felt like I was singing alongside the ladies, nervous at first, but then soothed and rewarded by the collective harmonies and applause from the grateful audiences.… Readers who enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society …should also feel right at home. READ MORE …
Keddy Ann Outlaw - LitLovers

Told in the form of diaries and letters in the voices of the female characters, Ryan’s novel, reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, captures the experience of the war from a woman’s perspective.… [The] format works well and the plot elements satisfyingly come together.
Publishers Weekly

 Unfortunately, debut author Ryan miscalculates the credibility of her novel's structure and her narrators.… The stalwart ladies of the choir deserve better. —Bette-Lee Fox
Library Journal

All are borderline stock characters, and little that happens in the book is unexpected—though the brutality of Brig. Winthrop… does come as a bit of a shock. The author also tends to tell rather than show.… Mildly entertaining, Ryan's debut novel seems overfamiliar and too intent on warming the heart.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for The Chilbury Ladies' Choir...then take off on your own:

m. What are the consequences on village life of the war and the absence of so many men?

m. In the fairly large cast of characters, who are your favorites—whom do you find most engaging or most admirable, generous, or helpful, and why? Which characters do you find less so? Mrs. Brampton-Boyd, perhaps? Or Miss paltry?

m. Then there is the Brigadier. Does he surprise you?

m. What tests do the many women in this novel face? In what manner does each rise to the occasion in order to meet (or not) those challenges?

m. The book, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is made up of letters and diary entries, documents, and notices. Do you enjoy the insertion of these extra-textual narratives, or do you prefer straightforward storytelling with a narrator?

m. When asked if music will help strengthen the spirit of the women during the war, Prim responds:

Music takes us out of ourselves, away from our worries and tragedies…. All those cadences and beautiful chord changes, every one of them makes you feel a different splendor of life.

Do you agree? Do you, personally, find that music offers consolation? What other forms of art might do so, as well?

Discuss, also, how being part of the choir affects each of the characters. What do the members gain, individually and together?

m. Consider the symbolic and/or spiritual significance of the Chilbury choir in this story—the gathering together of people, the blending of a multiplicity of voices, and fact that many voices are more powerful than one. Think of chords and harmony. How might all that relate to the thematic concerns of the novel?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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