The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

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By Jennifer Ryan

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6 reviews

‘The writing glows with emotional intelligence. This atmospheric debut…had me sniffing copiously’ Daily Mail


07 May 2020

Donna May

St Just Thursday Evening Reading Group 2nd April 2020.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir. Jennifer Ryan.

It seems that everyone who read this book had some initial resistance to it, suspecting that it was going to be too much of a 'light read'. However those who persisted found they 'became strangely hooked', enjoyed it and were sad when they got to the end, became accustomed to the style, wanted to find out what happened next, and liked it as a piece of escapism (or possibly, 'comedy drama').

The main strength of this book, we thought, was the author's successful portrayal of a group of women who were at first relegated to being of no importance or significance, and considered totally helpless without men around, taking affairs into their own hands and forming their choir, supporting one another and finding their own strengths as they did so. Most readers found the characters to be a little stereotyped (Brigadier Winthrop, the abusive bully who terrorises his wife and children; Mrs B, the redoubtable but overbearing pillar of the community; the downtrodden Mrs Tilling, who seems to act as a metaphor for the erstwhile unvoiced women of this era), but just the same we found them absorbing, even inspirational, and were pleased to see the way their stories worked out into a happy ending.

Adverse criticisms were many: the first chapters clumsy and badly written; the format (a different voice for each chapter) jarring; the story contrived; the writing style occasionally florid and the narrators insufficiently distinct from each other; the plot unconvincing; the baby-swap story completely unconvincing, likewise the undercover agent; the history and the musical elements not well researched; and we weren't sure whether it was supposed to be a 'cosy' novel about a choir or a serious message about the place of women in society and the effects of war or merely an enjoyable story. One reader also mentioned that the Mass Observation programme would have been better mentioned in a Foreword than at the end of the book.

Despite all these objections, though, everyone who commented said that they appreciated reading this book at this particular time (March/April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic in the UK and the lockdown). We felt that it took our minds off the events of the outside world, when Covid-19 and its effects were becoming an awful reality; readers said it made them feel that what we're going through is as nothing compared to the war years, and we are grateful we didn't have to send our children away as evacuees or to fight, or suffer the effects of air raids.

This book was read, as mentioned above, during March and April 2020 and the national lockdown because of the Covid-19 virus, and so the discussion was not 'live' as usual, but took place via a Facebook group, email and telephone conversations.

29 Jan 2019


We all enjoyed reading this book.
As some of the other reviews said it was a light read, but sometimes that is what you want
We all thought the book cover was wonderful produced

20 Apr 2018


This book is set during WW2 in the quiet village of Chilbury in Kent. The men are going off to war and the village choir is struggling. The vicar eventually decides that things can’t go on any longer and makes the decision to abandon the choir until life returns to normal. Enter Miss Primrose Trent, a Professor of Music who has other ideas. She rallies the troops and forms a Ladies Only choir. Despite initial reservations from a number of the local residents, this is a huge success. However, the members of the choir are a diverse bunch and there are plenty of goings-on behind the scenes in this seemingly sleepy village. The story unfolds through the musings of various narrators and one hell of a story it is too. Miss this one at your peril!!

This book is funny, witty, engaging, clever, sad and heartfelt. How many more good things are there to say about a book. I loved it. The storyline was outstanding, introducing numerous strands of intrigue, mischief, misunderstanding and skullduggery, alongside the perfectly respectable storyline involving the church choir and the everyday problems and pleasures of its members. It was easy to read yet not trite in any way. Another exceptional aspect of the book was the characterisation. By the time I was half way through I felt as though the characters were lifelong friends. They were developed exceptionally well, each individual having a unique personality which required no work on my part to fill in the gaps. Finally, I’m not usually a great fan of books which tell the story via a collection of snippets from diary entries, newspaper cuttings and letters. However, in this particular case it not only works well, but I think it enhances the reading experience. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes shenanigans from the outwardly respectable residents of Chilbury village and plenty of people to get to know and love as the book progresses. It was a delight to read.

I cannot think of a single negative thing to say about this book, except that I wish it hadn’t had to finish!

In case you hadn’t already guessed, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t praise it too highly. Unfortunately this is the first novel for this author so I can’t go out and buy all her others. I would recommend this book to anybody who loves a good read. Well done Jennifer.

31 Mar 2018

St Regulus AJ

This was a light read. Good for taking on holiday. An interesting group of characters, sadly, not really believable. First book? Too many ideas thrown together. I was disappointed that the choir only filled a relatively small part of this book and, as such, the tiltle attracted me but the book did not live up to its promise.

31 Oct 2017


A very light, funny, easy to read book that would be a good holiday read. It wasn't our book groups favourite read but we found it to be a jolly good romp and the 1940's party we held when we discussed it, complete with fancy dress and pink gin, was a hoot. All in all a very enjoyable experience.

26 Jun 2017

We loved this. We had been given a set of books from RGFE and I have to say, to begin with, we weren't too enthusiastic, I'm not sure why, perhaps because it was the idea of reading about a choir - quintessentially English, middle-class and pretty prosaic. However, we were wrong. We so enjoyed it. It is an easy read and uplifting without being cheesy. It reminded us a bit of The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, but introduced some great characters and interesting scenarios.

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