Four strangers in the midst of difficult life transitions find friendship, purpose, and perfect pitch in in this heartfelt comic novel.
In the small English village of St. Ambrose, the members of the Bridgeford Community Choir have little in common. But when their singing coach dies unexpectedly before a big contest, the motley group must join forces — and voices — in pursuit of an impossible-seeming goal. Featuring an eclectic cast of characters — including a mother suffering from empty nest syndrome, a middle-aged man who has just lost his job and his family, and a 19-year-old waitress who dreams of reality TV stardom — ALL TOGETHER NOW is a poignant and charming novel about small town life, community, falling in love, and the big rewards of making a small change.. (Goodreads)
I have to admit that All Together Now, is not my usual type of read and had I not been asked to review this book, I would probably would not have picked it up. This would have been a crying shame because although I only really liked this book, it was still one that held great charm and Hornby had demonstrated a great knack for a character driven novel, with some great themes running through it.
One of the main themes that runs strongly throughout the book is that of people facing drastic change in their lives. Hornby has used a local Choir group in a changing community as a backdrop to showcase how people react to impending change and she does this really well. It is something that everyone has to face and though I did and do not face the same changes that the main characters do, I could empathise with each of them in where they found themselves.
One of the surprising things, for me anyway, was the fact that the blurb of the book suggested that the four characters that would be the main focus were Tracey, the single mother whose son has decided to go to Rwanda on a charity trip; Bennet, the forty something(?) who is redundant and is also dealing with his wife walking out on him because of this; Annie, the middle aged housewife who is struggling with the empty nest she is facing since her children have left the house and also the changes within the Choir group due to their former leader being in accident, and finally Jazzy, the 20 something young woman who has dreams of leaving the community behind and seeking stardom on a reality show.
While I did agree and see how the book focused on Bennett, Tracy and Annie, I felt that Jazzy was very much a background character and one that I wasn’t really all that invested in. Instead, I was more intrigued with Sue, Bennetts estranged wife. Her reluctance at the change in her lifestyle, coupled with this feeling that Bennett was being selfish when he took his redundancy, made a great counter balance to the other female characters. That is not to say that both Tracy and Annie were trying to hold on to the past, it’s just that Sue was so confrontational about everything that was happening. She seemed determined to see Bennet fail and took every opportunity to put him down or make him out to be the villain of the piece. For a very short period of time I did side with her, but this was quickly dismissed when her true nature came out and I saw a really ugly side to her that I did not like.
As for Annie, Tracey and Bennet, I have to say that all their stories were interesting, but the two that really stood out for me had to be that of Annie and Bennett. These were two characters who at times seemed to be polar opposites. True, when it came to things like the threat of a supermarket coming in or, in the case of Annie, the changes being made to the choir, they are quite rightly opposed to the change.
Yet, what I found really interesting was the fact that Bennett was more open to changes in his personal life than Annie was. As the book progressed, I could see Bennett evolving as his experiences and friendships seemed to grow and change. He embraces things much more easily than Annie, who at times fights very hard to keep her rose tinted view of her family life intact. I felt for Annie, as it seemed that since she was left with an empty home, she seemed to take more and more extra-curricular activities to keep from facing the fact that her children had left home. The author really has captured this image of a woman, who has brought up her family, feel as though life has passed her by and begin to wonder what keeps her marriage securely together. I can’t even pretend to know what it feels like, but I had such strong feelings for Annie during this book.
If there was one element I wasn’t completely sold on, it had to be the romance between two of the characters. For most part, they had a passing friendship and when they did get together, it felt a bit off for me. However, saying that, the way in which the character explains them getting together felt very real and plausible. The female character comments that although her new partner is lovely and what she needs right now, she isn’t sure if he is “THE ONE”. To read a character explain their romantic situation in such a manner was refreshing and I really rather liked this new take.
One of the other theme’s that ran through this book was the sense of community and belonging. Twice during the book, external forces threaten the stability that has been built around the community and in deed, even the choir. While the first is front and centre, the second was much more subtly done and when I saw these interlopers first approach the choir, I did think something was up. Whether either is successful, you will have to read the book to find out.
The conclusion to the book, while not sickly sweet, was still nice to read and was very fitting to the story I felt the author was trying to tell. It was very satisfactory and I really did enjoy the book very much.
Don’t let the cover deceive you into thinking this is another “women’s fiction” or “Chic Lit” book for it really is further from the truth. The author shines a light on to what it means to live within a community and how people all react to changes differently. It was a really enjoyable read and although it isn’t my normal genre of book, I did enjoy it quite a bit. Whether I would read more by this author is still a bit up in the air, but I would defiantly think twice before I made my decision because the author really has a wonderful knack for creating complex characters.
For me it just missed being a 4 star, but I would definitely say that this is a very high 3 and a book I would happily recommend