Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown

New Year’s Eve 1940: Evie Chase, the beautiful debutante daughter of an RAF commander, listens wistfully to the swing music drifting out from the ballroom. With bombs falling nightly in London, she is determined to make a difference to the war effort.

Evie joins the ATA – the civilian pilots who ferry fighter planes to bases across war-torn Britain. Two other women wait nervously to join up with her – Stella Grainger, a forlorn young mother from Singapore, and Megan Jones, an idealistic teenager who has never left her Welsh village before.

Billeted together in a tiny cottage, Stella, Megan and Evie learn to live and work together as they find romance, confront loss and forge friendships that last a lifetime.

The Beauty Chorus has been inspired by the female pilots during WWII. 166 women signed up to fly Spitfires and bombers from factories to airfields across the country. It was an adventure that would cost many their lives:

It really is quite by accident that I've read several books relating to WWII in such short succession.  Each one has given me a different experience.  In The Beauty Chorus, a title these young female pilots received from their older male colleagues, we are swept off our feet by the impossible glamour of these young women flying these great big roaring machines of war.
The newspapers saw their beauty, their youth, their red lipstick and carefully groomed hair, and never once did they peer beneath the surface to show how much hard work these young women put in on a daily basis and the dangers they faced.
Evie, impossibly glamorous and beautiful, joins the ATA - Air Transport Auxiliary Unit - on New Years Day in an attempt to get away from her father and her irritating stepmother.  Megan loses her husband in Singapore to the war effort and travels to Ireland where she leaves her baby behind.  She joins the ATA in a way to put it all behind her.  Stella, having never travelled further than the local village in Wales, leaves the farm she grew up on and joins the unit.  The 3 girls are billeted together in a tiny cottage and soon their differences are swept aside as they become fast friends.
War is a man's world and The Beauty Chorus has their share of run-ins with some other members of the Auxiliary unit who would rather not have them around.  The girls rise to the challenge and are soon flying various planes and craft around the country to make sure that their male counterparts have flying machines to hand to defend queen and country.
This is Kate Lord Brown's first novel but she handles the subject matter with ease - it is a quick the sense that the narrative flows and is easy on the eye.  The girl's characters are very different yet in their differences lie their friendship and strengths. 
Before reading The Beauty Chorus I did not know about the ATA.  Which is silly of me as I have a friend whose great aunt flew for them.  But somehow I never really thought about it within the context of what they did in WWII.  It was a bit outside of my ken and so until The Beauty Chorus came along, it never occurred to me how much we owed these women, these "unsung" heroes.
It is a very British novel, focusing on friendship and duty and how tea can make almost anything right.  It runs such a fine line between action and adventure and the impossible glamour of parties and handsome men in uniform, that there really is something for everyone in this novel.  It isn't all just serious stuff, but there are throwaway one-liners and deeply humorous moments too, but then it is artfully balanced with the ugly reality that there is a war on and that at any moment any of these girls or their close comrades could be killed whilst out flying from one airbase to the next.
I had a box of tissues with me whilst reading this - it was not a commutable book - and sobbed uncontrollably over breakfast one morning, much to Mark's horror.  The Beauty Chorus really does what it sets out to do - entertain you, draw you in, and make you feel part of the story as you can't help but identifying with the girls.  The characters are well developed and Ms. Lord Brown has a great talent for scene-setting.  The book reads in a very filmic way and so it would be great to see a decent movie or tv show made to accompany it. 
As I said, it has all the elements that will appeal to a larger audience.  My biggest worry is that - although I love the cover - it may turn off some male readers, and I can say, with my hand on my heart, that male readers would enjoy reading The Beauty Chorus, don't be biased, look past the cover to the excellent novel beneath.  Or buy it on the Kindle from from Amazon.
I have found some great interviews Kate did with some other reviewers.  So find one here and here.  And this is Kate's excellent blog. Thank you so much to Corvus for sending me this on to review.  It was educational but more importantly, it was a great read and I highly recommend it.  Just keep those hankies to hand.


Ynysawdre Elderly Residents Association said...

Thank you for that fabulous review. I now want to use this for the WWII project in Novemeber and the Celtic Celebration in March.
Adding to my library wish-list.
Thanks again

Selina said...

I never heard about the book but it sounds interesting. I am always fascinated about WWII and this sounds like an original angle. Great review and thanks for sharing!

Tori said...

This is exactly the book I think I need to read. Because I'm easy, and it's about WWII and the ATA. Thank you for letting me know it exists!

If you’re interested in ATA girls, you should read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein as soon as it comes out next spring. I was a lucky beta-reader and it is wonderful.