Who doesn't enjoy a good soap opera once in a while, especially when the suds bubble up in England? Nothing tops a bit of British tittle-tattle. Ryan's book has it all...baby snatching, baby swapping, naked rich girl and questionable artist, sneaky midwife, vindictive little sister, bossy church lady and so much more.
To be honest, I was hoping for more substance, closer to the tone of PBS' Home Fires, but I got over that disappointment quickly. With many of the village men fighting in WWII, the women of Chilbury have to get on and get along. Those tasks prove difficult for the assortment of personalities attempting to maintain traditional roles in a society where tradition has been uprooted and uncertainty is the norm.
With no promise of tomorrow, the young people grow up quickly and begin taking risks that compromise the values they once held. The diverse ensembl tells us their stories through letters and diary entries, twisting in and out and around each other.
I know I'm making vague statements here, but the book starts right out with purposeful action and I can't say too much without spoiling the story. There are secrets kept my many women in Chilbury, and you may find yourself asking why. Several women have opportunities to turn an individual over to the authorities, but choose not to. The choir, the ladies choir, functions as a metaphor for these women who have only each other to lean on in challenging times. Loneliness and fear are present in every minute of every day in their lives and the women cope to establish harmony.
Yup. Predictable - so I made a game of it. Each time I found myself saying "I bet she's going to...." I'd jot down the page I was on and watch for the realization. So far...right on all accounts. The author sneaks in some literary references also, most quite nicely hidden. Watch for illusions to Macbeth, Frankenstein, The Importance of Being Earnest, Our Town, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and a blatant reference to Anna Karenina. These have been fun to track as well. Yes, fun! Some people golf, some people do other stuff for fun.
A few men turn up in the plot, but with a few exceptions, they are not very likeable. That aspect of the book troubles me, along with the fact the the choir director uses a baton!
My book group will be discussing this title in two weeks.
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