The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

It’s 1940 and the Chilbury village men, young and old alike, are called upon to fight to defend their heritage and their immediate future.

The Chilbury Ladies choir

The Vicar leaves a note on the church noticeboard stating that ‘As all our male voices have gone to war, the village choir is to close’.  This high-handed attitude rattles on the remaining but suddenly defunct females of the choir.  Action has to be taken and it is …

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is the result and a few prominent members of both choir and village are prompted to divulge their thoughts, actions, and emotions through correspondence – letters are written; journals are jotted in and generally, the fictional village of Chilbury and its occupants, are brought to life in what is a very uncertain and frightening time.

I debated whether I wanted to read about an all-female choir but it was essentially the ‘glue’ that held all the characters together and propelled the sub-plots along within the main storyline.

Blackmail, black marketeering, village hierarchy and social status combined with a healthy dollop of romance all play a part in the unfolding drama but it is the diverse female characters – young and old – who symbolise what mental and physical reserves of strength were required to survive yet another German invasion when still experiencing the effects of the previous one some twenty years ago.

I especially warmed to the precocious but somewhat naïve 13-year-old Kitty Winthrop who starts a diary as a result of an announcement on the wireless that ‘keeping a diary in these difficult times is excellent for the stamina’.  Her entries are funny, optimistic, deluded and very in keeping with an adolescent who feels she has a very old head on youthful shoulders when, in fact, her inability to understand the subtleties of life, make it both sad and funny at the same time.

The epistolary style of writing is reminiscent of other amazing reads such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and The Colour Purple  by Alice Walker.

This novel will prove a very popular addition to any book club list – and at some future point in time possibly as a TV series.

This is Jennifer Ryan’s first novel and I look forward to reading whatever else she has in the pipeline.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
by  Jennifer Ryan
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008163716

Belle

Cover of BelleBased on a real incident in the eighteenth-century, this beautifully crafted story is also a visual treat for those that love elaborate costumes, majestic sets and wondrous landscapes. I have yet to read the book by Paula Byrne, but the DVD was a joy to watch.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Royal Navy Admiral John Lindsay. Slavery had been operating for many years at the time of Dido’s birth and her life could have been one of life-long servitude and misery but for the fact that John Lindsay – for whatever reasons – publicly acknowledged her to his titled family.

Dido was left in the care of her father’s Uncle, Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, and was subsequently brought up in his household as his great-niece. Whilst her lineage and, later, the inheritance of her late father’s estate, gave her more freedom than most women in that period of time, the colour of her skin was a barrier to acquiring social standing. Ironically, Dido shared her childhood with a legitimate white female cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, whose own father made no financial provision for her so that Lord and Lady Mansfield were obliged to make a ‘good’ match for her.

When Dido formed a romantic attachment with the idealistic son of a local Vicar, they both embarked on a mission to abolish slavery in England through the initially reluctant auspices of Lord Mansfield.

Cover of Representing SlaveryNormally I read a book and then see the film, or just watch a film, but on this occasion the film has inspired me to find out more about both the Family and the origins of the Slave Trade in eighteenth-century Great Britain.  Fortunately there are plenty of resources available to assist me in this task at the Christchurch City Libraries.  (You can access the following resources in libraries or from home using your library card number and password/PIN.)

Anyone else out there ever been so impressed by a film that they have then wanted to delve more deeply into the history of the era?