Thursday, 2 August 2012

Book Review: 'The Beauty Chorus'

Published 2011.

I read this a little while ago. It's the debut novel of Kate Lord Brown who has crafted history and fiction in harmony, introducing readers to the role of women in the Air Transport Auxiliary Unit during World War Two.

What really drew me to it was that it's originality and it also features Amy Johnson in a cameo role, more interestingly opening with her voice thus conveying a sense of realism and immediacy, hooking the reader from the start. Amy begins:

'I have four and a half hours to live. I am leaning against the wing of the yellow-bellied Airspeed Oxford, smoking contentedly while the ground crew chaps run their final checks.'
It's so simple and yet so clever and engaging. You can visualize the scene and one almost feels as though you were transported right there.

Miss Johnson goes on to say, 'Call me Johnnie, by the way. Everyone does.'
It's fascinating and warming to have a character, a real person in essence, to boldly introduce herself so directly. Again, such simple sentence structure but with an extraordinary effect.

Next we are introduced to the main charatcter, Evie Chase, the debutante daughter of an RAF Commander. She has the misfortune to have a wicked stepmother who despises her and so she can't wait to leave home and do her bit for the war effort. This inevitably leads her to join the ATA where she gradually falls in love with Beau, her instructor and a former injured pilot. Naturally her path to love is anything but smooth.

Evie shares a house with two other girls, Stella Grainger, recently returned from Singapore with her baby boy who is currently being cared for by her in-laws in Ireland. Then there's Megan Jones, a somewhat naive girl from a farming family in Wales. Since her brother died she's been trying to do everything she can to stop her ruthless cousins from inheriting her dad's farm. She intends to take over the running of the farm after the war.

As time goes on, the three women bond and we share their respective journey's in the ATA as well as in love and dealing with loss.
If you didn't know very much at all about the role women had in the ATA, then this novel will certainly equip you with a working knowledge, but in a good way. It's well crafted and by the end you'll have forged a bond with all three girls, one that will stay with you for a long time.

The ATA was very much a man's world, but freeing up well needed pilots was an absolute necessity and the women who were successful enough to join did a marvelous job, equally rivalling their male counterparts. They were part of a thousand strong organisation, delivering aircraft to the RAF. There was enormous pressure upon them daily to get aircraft delivered in time and they served under much discrimination as some of their male colleagues refused to accept them into what was effectively a male dominated world.

In early 1941, Pauline Gower, the head of the women's ATA, was able to get permission for the women to fly the Hurricanes and Spitfires. Flying the Spit seems to have been the highlight of their careers. According to one former pilot, you wore the Spitfire; 'it and you were one.'
Hope you enjoy watching the clip below.

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