Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The outbreak of World War II has had a devastating effect on the English village of Chilbury.  Not only have all able-bodied men been called up to fight, but the vicar has decided to disband the choir since there are no male voices left.  When a London music professor moves to the village (what luck!) she decides to organize the ladies of the village into a choir and enter them in competitions.  While some in the village are scandalized at the idea of an all-female choir (especially the busybody "Mrs. B." eventually they come around.  In The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, we get a glimpse of how the villagers deal with the war and their day-to-day lives during this time of upheaval.

The story is told from the viewpoint of multiple characters through letters, diary entries, and notices posted in the village.  We get to meet a variety of characters.  There's Kitty and Venetia, teenage sisters whose older brother died early in the war.  This left their father, the overbearing and glowering Brigadier Winthrop, without a male heir.  His browbeaten wife is pregnant again, and just to be sure of a fortunate outcome, the Brigadier makes a deal with the shady nurse Edwina Paltry.  She's already had to leave one position due to some not exactly aboveboard dealings, so she's willing to help out . . . for a price.  Then there's Mrs. Tilling, whose son David has gone off to fight.  Since his room is empty, she's pressed to accept a lodger, Colonel Mallard, who is assigned to the nearby Litchfield Park War Center (but she's none to happy or welcoming).  Venetia Winthrop has also started a relationship with a new arrival in town, Alistair Slater.  Alistair is an artist who has been exempted from serving in the army due to flat feet.  Still, there is a lot of speculation about what he's doing out in the woods at night -- a little black market dealing, perhaps?

While I understand that it's difficult to convey all the action in a book through diaries and letters, the entries should at least ring true.  Sadly, the letters, especially those from the 18 year old Venetia to her friend Angela don't sound like letters at all.  While Venetia is caught up in being the belle of the village, and later with her relationship with the mysterious Slater, she still takes the time to wax all eloquent in her letters. For instance, after a disagreement with Slater, she wrote that she "stalked out of the copse to the orchard, each gentle breeze shifting the delicate shadows of the branches, like life flickering between light and dark."  She also wrote that the village had a "light mist that lingered in the air, coating the village with a wordless hush."  Seriously, what teenage girl writes to another teenager like that?  Especially when said girls seem to have nothing in their heads but clothes and boys.  And 13 year old Kitty?  She describes the quiet after the choir has finished a song as a "calming lull of the slowly undulating final notes, dissipating into the eerie darkness." A passage would occur like a narrator was imparting all this, then you'd come to the end of the "letter" or diary entry with a jolt and realize how unrealistic it was.

I enjoyed the differing character viewpoints and the short entries from each to advance the action.  It just didn't ring true that these young girls were so wordy and descriptive in their recounting of the action in the story.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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