The women left behind
Despite its pastoral title, Jennifer Ryan’s compelling and exquisitely wrought World War II-era novel is far removed from the stereotypical cozy British village story. Rooted in the bucolic countryside of Kent, the novel is told in a series of letters and journal entries penned by an eclectic cast of characters, all of whom are members of their village’s first ladies’ choir—a musical distinction born of necessity rather than choice.
Indeed, with the village’s sons, brothers, husbands and lovers heading off to join the war effort, Chilbury is virtually absent of men. For the women they have left behind, the emotional burdens to be borne include the lonely widow Mrs. Tilling’s fears for the safety of her only son; village beauty Venetia Winthrop’s illicit romance with an enigmatic artist; intrepid musical prodigy Kitty’s ill-fated attempts to gain attention; and the haunted Jewish refugee Silvie’s harboring of a family secret.
While the poignant narratives that unfold in each letter and journal entry are imbued with the struggles of a town reeling from the ravages of yet another war, the bleakness is tempered by romance, mystery and even crime—in particular, a daring act of deception performed by Miss Edwina Paltry, a conniving member of the Winthrops’ household staff.
Readers will be delighted to hear that the television rights to this splendid novel have already been optioned by Carnival TV—the production company behind “Downton Abbey.” With The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Ryan has crafted a riveting debut novel that is certain to resonate with readers on both sides of the pond.
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.