All Together Now by Gill Hornby

Review by Ishita Mandrekar

all together nowThere seems to be an unspoken rule when it comes to writing any piece of fiction about choirs – stick to the formula. Usually, the plot comprises of a rebel protagonist who, after being coerced into joining the choir, miraculously gets their act together and steers them towards a happy ending.

In All Together Now this protagonist is Tracey Leckford, a single mother with a dark past and a tongue stud, who goes out of her way to live a hermit life. The choir in question is the Bridgeford Community Choir – most of whom, in Tracey’s words, are ‘ancient’ and ‘certifiable bonkers.’ There is the interfering Annie, who usually takes responsibility for things that no one wants to be responsible for – namely cleaning up and coffee; Lewis, Tracey’s affable albeit slightly bossy neighbour who can’t sing but shows up simply because the choir brings a smile to his daughter’s face; Katie, Lewis’ daughter who is confined to a wheel chair after a car accident; Maria – the fun- loving, hip – swaying carer, and then there’s Bennett, the slightly clueless love interest who starts off on a slight antagonistic note with Tracey but sings like an angel, along with a cast of other odd-ball characters.

The choir is in trouble – the County Championships is around the corner, their leader is in the hospital in a coma and they need a star act to win the competition. Anyone who has watched Glee or Pitch Perfect can more or less guess the plot of All Together Now. This is not a book that wins points in the authentic plot department. Hornby sticks to the formula, choosing to create a variation instead of creating a whole new plot altogether. Perhaps it is a credit to her writing then that she still manages to engage her reader, even when the reader has more or less guessed the plot by page three. Hornby has a knack for finding the beauty in the everyday, and she brings out these details in the lives of the various members of the Bridgeford community. The depiction of small town life is vividly sketched out for the reader, and brings to mind Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy in that respect.

It is no mean task to juggle a large ensemble of characters and their relationships with each other, and Hornby does both beautifully. Depicting the intertwining relationships and various social dynamics at work with intricacy and honesty. The parent-children relationships are perhaps the best examples of this. The father-daughter bond between Lewis and Katie, the friendship Tracey shares with her son Billy, or even the relationship between Bennett and Araminta. Hornby drills to the heart of social appearances and give the reader characters that are both selfless and flawed at the same time. It would be unfair to categorise All Together Now as a feel good book, for despite its flaws in plot, the book gently encourages its reader to take a closer look at everyday life. The kind of life we all live and not notice.

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