Tracey has a secret. When her neighbour bullies her into joining the local community choir, she’s not quite sure why she keeps going. She’s kept her image untarnished as a ‘rock chick’ since her son was born, but will the pull of making music unmask her?
All Together Now is a look at personalities and politics of the choir of an English town caught in the gap between city and country. Bridgeford empties every weekday, its population drained via motorway commute to the city, so with most residents’ attention elsewhere it struggles with its own identity and community spirit. However, with the announcement of a new superstore which would block views from its high street and threaten local businesses, the locals start to rally.
At the same time, the long serving choir leader has an accident and is hospitalized, with no predictions of when she might recover. The choir is dwindling in numbers, and Tracey’s neighbour, Lewis, who she’s never spoken to before, bullies her into attending by not taking no for an answer. He’s heard her sing, and wants her voice. Her appearance prompts a recruitment drive, and they numbers swell. They have a competition coming up, but there are things to settle.
It’s running as a democracy, but it’s a shambles. Everyone wants different types of music. Should they hold out till their leader can return, which looks increasingly unlikely, or elect someone new? Who? Will the refugees from the operatic group take over? Will Tracey give in and let her talent shine? Will her relationship with her son ever be the same?
The protest against the proposed superstore and the reviving choir intersect. Can Bridgeford rally and begin to reinvent itself?
All Together Now is a gentle read. Its humour is subtle, and there are some dollops of pathos along the way. It’s the kind of book you don’t have to think about, you can enjoy recognising some characters, and be a touch uncomfortable recognising others.
It takes a little long to get to the point where they decide to elect a new choir leader. It’s inevitable, and in this kind of book where the plot involves ordinary events in ordinary lives it’s a pivotal moment; you just want them to get on with it. The ending is also too ‘ever after’ unrealistic, gaining more involvement of a sector of the community than anyone could reasonably expect. It’s a nice scene, but a little like one of those movies where you find yourself smiling at the end, even though you know it’s a bit trite.
This book seems to have polarized reviewers since its release. I suspect enjoying this book will depend on everyone’s individual reaction to Hornby’s characters. There’s Tracey and her relationship with her son, the hurt he unconsciously inflicts and the effort she makes to conceal her pain. Annie is the doing-everything-for-everyone aging wife, feeling unnecessary in life. Bennet is floundering trying to make sense of the world with a rather Asperger’s filter and the double whammy of forced redundancy and his wife’s desertion with the kids. Then there’s Lewis, caring for his daughter Kate, who’s nineteen and in a wheelchair because of the accident that killed his wife. There’s also a scattering of minor players to fill in the gaps.
This is the second novel by Gill Hornby, whose debut The Hive made such a splash a few years ago. I doubt this will be as big, but it’s an enjoyable read when you want something that doesn’t make too much of a demand on you.
All Together Now by Gill Hornby
Published: June 4th 2015
Links: Gill Hornby’s Facebook Page