The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

By: Jennifer Ryan
Narrators: Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogen Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, Mike Grady
Penguin Random House Audio/Random House Audio

Genre: Fiction – Historical 

Release Date: March 14, 2017 

11 Hours and 30 Minutes

I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book provided by Penguin Random House Audio. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.

“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, and 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.

This audiobook includes popular versions of classical music sung by women’s choirs, including the songs Abide with Me and All Creatures, Ave Maria, and The Lord’s My Shepherd


My Take Oblong Shaped


This is one of those novels which, as a debut, is labeled astonishing and remarkable.  At first  I thought it was going to be much like any of the other women-centered WWII British novels I had read over the past ten years. But then, with the introduction of sex, and unlikely, middle-ages worthy intrigue,  and Mrs Millicent-like tragedy, it became an un-put-down-able listen.

WWII is something, as American born in 1960, I simply cannot understand. How very, very hard it must have been to live through.  AT the beginning of the war the people in Chilbury, some of whom remember WWI can hardly imagine it either.  They have been told keeping diaries will help them cope.  Perhaps that’s true, and it may have helped, but the human drama independent of war is as riveting and difficult than the upheavals caused by the war.

Without many of the men who determined their roles, women in this small town not too far from London, being to question the roles they have been assigned, where they can go and what they can do.  An important central part in the lives of the characters in the book is their church  choir.  I don’t know to what degree church itself was important, but their choral activities are nearly curtailed when all the men go to war. Of course, there are still men in the village, but apparently none are musical.  But it seems the effect of having been directed is different from them directing themselves; an expanding experience and catalyst in their lives.  Deciding to carry on, against tradition, with just women’s voices is the first step in their consciousness raising.

But, the story that most affected me was the growth of the beautiful, but nasty girl who is destined to fall in love with a mysterious, possibly treasonous man living in her town. Her growth as a person is a difficult road, and quite inspiring. While I disliked her immensely at the beginning of the  book, her response to adversity, her courage and feeling show her not to be the entirely selfish, callow, and shallow girl all believe she is.  Her younger sister, is on the precipice of womanhood and is actually very self-involved with the rich fantasy life only a preteen or teenaged young woman can have. 

Another woman is the local nurse, much more like a Nurse Practitioner or Midwife. She comes up against many challenges: boarders, scandal, child-abuse and meeting her first homosexual.  THese challenges – which she probably would not have experienced without the war, lead her to personal grwoth and remarkable change.

The good are rewarded, the bad are punished. Some of the good are also punished. But, life goes on, it is different but it goes on.  And in this small town it revolves around the women’s choir. 

The book, with the multitude of narrators is entirely enjoyable. Each voice is remarkably precise: the young girls, the nurse and the midwife.  With such a cast of women, I confess, I do not remember the male narrators: the women really stuck out.   I lost track of some of the names, and locations, but I loved the story and found it charming, moving and thought-provoking.


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