Set in an English country village at the onset of WWII, The Chilbury Ladies Choir is told through letters and journal and diary entries by four female characters who are faced with keeping the home fires burning while their menfolk are off fighting Nazis. The first-person format intrigued me, and the subject sounded promising. However, it was the anticipation of escaping into the lives of “three or four families in a country village” that really hooked me. If English-born author Jennifer Ryan could dish out endearing and foibled characters I was in for a great read.
Ominously, the novel begins with the funeral of Commander Edmund Winthrop, the first casualty of the war from this tight-knit community. The reality of his death hits the remaining residents hard, coupled with the fact that the vicar decided to close the church choir due to the lack of male voices. The ladies rebel. They are done with being told what to do by the few men remaining. Disobeying the vicar, they form the Chilbury Ladies Choir led by Miss Primrose Trent, a music tutor from the local university.
“First, they whisk our men away to fight, then they force us women into work, then they ration food, and now they’re closing our choir. By the time the Nazis get here there’ll be nothing left except a bunch of drab women ready to surrender.” Mrs. Brampton-Boyd (3)
From the desk of Christina Boyd:
Author Mary Lydon Simonsen is making quite a name for herself as a writer who successfully uses Jane Austen’s characters and themes in other historical times and settings. Her latest Pride and Prejudice re-imagining is set in WWII England with the Bennet girls conscripted into the workforce to support the war effort. This tale begins when Elizabeth Bennet, a pants-wearing, lorry driver, encounters the handsome but rude Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot, Fitzwilliam Darcy. And like in Austen’s masterpiece, Darcy once again unwittingly slights Elizabeth when she overhears him discouraging a fellow officer from attending a local RAF dance. “I shall warn you there is little beauty in the girls who attend these dances, and they aren’t exactly light on their feet. If you do go to the dance, my advice is to wear your jump boots.” But upon seeing Elizabeth, Darcy is certain he has met her previously, but where? A befuddling thought indeed until they are later formally introduced through another pilot, Charles Bingley.
The original characters are as they ever were with Lydia getting caught dallying with Wickham and with real consequences; and Jane falling for the estimable, Mr. Bingley. What was most pleasing was to read familiar Austen lines, tweaked of course, to fit this 1944 story… “Because their mother was so eager for her daughters to marry, even in the midst of a war, Jane decided it was best not to mention meeting Mr. Bingley to her mother because she would have jumped from having a cup of coffee at a canteen to a courtship and, from there, to a walk down the aisle in the blink of an eye.” Continue reading