“Human nature defeats me sometimes, how greed and spite can lurk so divisively around the utmost courage and sacrifice.”
What happens to the women when the men go to war?
This is, in my opinion, the essence of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan. While we meet a whole host of characters, including men, the story largely centers around five women in the choir. One is a widow whose son is off in the war, two sisters embroiled in love stories all their own, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia with secrets of her own, and a midwife whose actions make her want to outrun everything she knows.
Now, I will be honest with this one. Not every story hooked me. I did not have as much of a connection with the widow or the Jewish refugee portions of the story, though I still believe Jennifer Ryan wrote them well. It is just those parts felt a little flat in my mind, for another unidentifiable reason aside from technical writing quality.
However, I really enjoyed the stories surrounding the other members (the two sisters and the midwife). I could definitely relate to the sister with an impossible crush (is that not always the case?) and I will admit I was always looking forward to more passages with the focus on the midwife.
I think the defining feature of this book, a major part of what makes it so good, is the fact Jennifer Ryan chose to use the epistolary style. To those who may be unaware of what this means, it is a novel written in the form of letters. Thus, we get to hear mention of other characters, some who physically do not appear in the novel, and how much they mean to the one writing the letter. This helps build a more complete picture of each of the ladies in the choir. Specifically, it adds more humanity and flaws—it makes them three dimensional, and I think much of this would have been lost had Jennifer Ryan not written in letters, and simply chose a narrative such as in the Harry Potter novels, even if she switched perspectives. It’s a little like if they are not narrating their story to an outsider.
In many instances, you run into unreliable narrators, bias, and limited information in stories with the third person limited perspective, like in the Harry Potter novels. I think, while this might still occur to some extent in the epistolary style, and in The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir specifically, I think you get much less of it. Why? I think because these letters are written with the intent of revealing information, whether its out of desperation, trust, or just conversation and updates. Regardless, there is a lot less room for lying here, in my opinion, though it is not gone entirely.
I think the pacing of the story was quite nice as well. You do have to pay close attention sometimes and remind yourself of where you are at in the story, but it makes sense to me. The good news about having to remind myself about where I was in the story is the letters are marked with a date, so I can place them properly, figure out what events are happening, how much time has passed, et cetera.
I could probably analyze The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir for a while in terms of mechanics, style, and how the story unfolds. However, I think I will leave a lot to mystery for you. I certainly enjoyed reading this book. It is, perhaps, my favourite of the books I have received so far from my subscription to Novel Editions. I would definitely recommend you read The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan if you enjoy historical fiction and if you like reading books with female characters front and center. If you do read it, let me know what you think! Did you have a particular women from the choir whose storyline you followed a little more closely? Any strong emotions about the characters or their actions, whether positive or negative? How did you feel about the epistolary style? I want to hear about it all!
Title: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
Author: Jennifer Ryan