06/08/2007

The Choir (by Joanna Trollope)

I like most of Joanna Trollope's books, particularly her later ones. I don't feel as moved by her characterisation as I do by some other authors (such as Rosamunde Pilcher) but I do feel caught up in her plots, which are always intriguing and a little different to the average women's fiction novel.

I last read 'The Choir' over seven years ago, and remembered enjoying it. It was the first of Joanna Trollope's contemporary novels, claimed by the Sunday Telegraph as being 'A modern Barchester Chronicle'- no doubt a reference to the author being a descendant of Anthony Trollope.
It's set in the 1980s, and revolves around the Cathedral Close and choir school in the fictional town of Aldminster. The headmaster is a likeable man, but rather stressed because his wife has vanished. He knows she's alive and well, and she's disappeared before, but he's still not sure why, or whether she will return to him.

The organist, Leo Beckford, is a brilliant musician and exacting choir master. His newest protegé, eleven-year-old Henry, has a voice that seems even more stunning than most - and it's only the best who are accepted into the Cathedral choir in the first place. There's some tension between Leo and the teachers at the school, since Leo believes that the choir should take priority over everything else, including sports.

Then there's the Dean, a rather overbearing man, with a snobby wife. They have some teenage and young adult children who have gone beyond the bounds of rebellion, into almost unbelievable wildness - I suppose this family was the closest to the caricatures of 'Barchester', and they're the ones who cause the most stress within the Close. The Dean thinks the Cathedral itself is far more important than the choir, so when a large amount of money has to be raised to solve problems with the Cathedral roof, he has no qualms about axing the choir... or, indeed, selling the Headmaster's house (which is Cathedral property) to aid the necessary funds.

So there are stresses and strains, not helped by Henry's mother - whose husband works in the Middle East - starting an affair. Henry is a very likeable boy, with a good imagination and integrity, who really loves to sing. I found him the most sympathetic character in the whole book, although most of them were believable up to a point. There was actually rather too large a cast for my tastes and I sometimes forgot who was who; some of them (such as the nice, diplomatic Bishop who refused to take sides) seeming quite unecessary.

So, in a sense it is a bit like a contermporary 'Barchester Chronicles' and would probably be enjoyed by those who liked Anthony Trollope's work. In another sense it's very different, since the focus is on the choir school and Henry in particular. People learned a lot about themselves, and also about the necessity of life having to move on. I enjoyed re-reading it - having quite forgotten what would happen - and thought the conclusion satisfactory.

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