The Beauty Chorus

Written by Kate Lord Brown
Review by Martin Bourne

The title is a slang term for the female volunteers of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) who in World War II moved aircraft around the country by the quickest possible method – flying them.

The novel starts with some odd soliloquies from beyond the grave by the ATA’s most famous member, the aviation pioneer Amy Johnson. The real story follows three ladies through the reasons they decide to volunteer for the ATA and what happens when they train together and finally become active pilots. One is a spoiled rich kid asserting her independence, the second is striving to come to terms with a failed marriage, and the third is a bouncy youngster looking for adventure.

This is not Top Gun. Ferrying aircraft around is a tough job mainly because it is time-consuming and tedious. Detailed descriptions of long hours on planes and trains are wisely avoided. All you get is a few paragraphs about soaring in the sky and intermittent reminders of how tired the girls are.

Instead, the novel concentrates on the heroines’ tangled personal lives. Surrounded as they are by dashing fighter pilots, widely acknowledged to be prime examples of desirable manhood, this soon involves plenty of spiffy adventures, furtive romance, and even some sex. Essentially The Beauty Chorus is a kind of “jolly hockey sticks” novel for adults, with flying instead of gymkhana and RAF White Waltham as the boarding school. Period feel is pretty good, but some situations come over as laboured, and many are very casually resolved. It’s entertaining enough, in a frothy soap opera way.