We had our first meeting of the term yesterday and, since we were lucky enough to receive ten copies of The Chilbury ladies’ choir by Jennifer Ryan, together with a bottle of Plymouth gin, angostura bitters, oat butter cookies, and bunting, balloons and messerschmidt aeroplanes from HarperCollins to decorate, we had a party! We held the party in the Chapel at our King’s Road campus…
Generally, members of the club enjoyed the book, saying it was a relaxing read: humorous, warm, and a little bit shocking, but then we remembered that Chilbury was right in the firing line from Hitler’s air force, times were desperate and really quite awful, especially when the bomb landed. A couple of members didn’t like the novel and felt it was unrealistic in terms of the events described, and attitudes of the characters. They believed it to be too saccharine at times and felt that we had lost sight of the choir by the end. They also felt that the ending was predictable.
This being said, we liked the idea of the story being told in diary, journal and letter entries, and felt that this was an effective way to get across multiple versions of the events, getting a full picture of how each individual saw how the story unfolded. Telling a story in this way somehow seems to make it feel that we are more intimately involved in it by reading the personal writings of an individual.
We felt that the midwife, Edwina Paltrey, should never be forgiven for her actions, being the cold-hearted, calculating creature that she was. However harsh her background, and despite the forgiveness she was seeking from her sister by trying to make things right between them, her actions were completely reprehensible!
Elements of the story described rather accurately the class system and attitude towards women which persisted at the time, with particular reference to the Brigadier and his treatment of his daughters and wife.
Some members felt that more could have been made of the choir, and felt that more could have been made of its importance after Hattie and Prim died, but the overwhelming feeling that making the music was a joyous act, unifying all those women, and strengthening their resolve to get through the war in a supportive and caring environment. One also felt that they had gained in confidence themselves.
Read this novel if you like stories such as Call the midwife…