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Paperback Human Voices Book

ISBN: 039595617X

ISBN13: 9780395956175

Human Voices

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

The "human voices" of Penelope Fitzgerald's enchanting novel are those of an eccentric group of broadcasters at the BBC in London during the air raids of World War II. When British listeners tuned in to the Nine O'Clock News in the middle of 1940, they had no idea what human dramas -- and follies -- were unfolding behind the scenes. Targeted by enemy bombers, the BBC had turned its concert hall into a dormitory for both sexes. And, as in any dormitory,...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

The TRUTH?usually

Ms. Fitzgerald actually did work for the BBC during WWII, and while there was at least one annoying trait, I found the book to be her wittiest I have read. My complaint has to do with the use of acronyms; if you worked at the BBC this will not be an issue. But when used liberally, in a compact novel that defines how she writes, there is little time to learn them. "CJ get me AJ the SECDEF, RJ the SECTRES, ASAP, for a get together at MOJ, PDQ...OK? The PPA, and 2 JPA'S, should attend as well." Usually this sort of banter is reserved for a Tom Clancy Novel.The book ended with a great bang like many of her works, but this time we are not left wondering if the book we are holding is a few pages short. There still is more to unfold for some central characters, but this time the reader decides whether or not to pursue a continuance.The TRUTH is the mission the BBC is on. To broadcast this and nothing else, not even speeches by The King that have been mended to delete his stutter. However in one of the funniest passages of the book, a French General feels compelled to share the "truth" with England and the English he so loves. Fortunately for both country and citizens alike, and to the amusement of the PM, he had the plugs pulled upon him.Since Ms. Fitzgerald did work at the BBC, it offers an additional avenue for thought. Simply stated, how much is true, how many of these people actually lived, and how much was pure fiction. It is a tribute to her writing that the reader is unsure. By writing as she has, whether in a complimentary manner, or unflattering, I doubt some of the subjects would recognize themselves.Another novel, without repetition, that demonstrates the vast skill this woman commanded.

Initially offputting, ultimately rewarding

I found _Human Voices_ harder to "get into" than the other four Fitzgerald novels I've read. And it seemed to have more stock characters. However, it ends more convincingly (less abruptly) than some of her other novels. Having survived wading through the acronyms, I came away feeling that there is more substance in this novel than there seemed to be while I was reading it. Almost by the way, it provides a compelling portrait of life in London early in the war and insight into how the English held on as they expected a Nazi invasion during 1940. Fitzgerald has a great gift for making human foibles simultaneously funny and touching.


GIST: Staffers at British Broadcasting try to cope with each other in wartime conditions. HAMMOCK-TIME: Again, a delightfully slim book by Ms. Fitzgerald, concise and absorbing. Requires perhaps one lazy weekend in your hammock or beach chair to finish. SKIMMING QUOTIENT: Her characterizations and subtle humor are so delightful, there's no need or desire for most readers to skim through any part. STYLE: Some parts are sluggish, but generally the story is fast-paced, and humorous. SUBSTANCE: I really appreciate this author. Ms. Fitzgerald focuses on adult themes with sophistication, without tedious explicit sexual passages; and profanity is practically non-existent. It's difficult to find comparable American authors who display similar tendencies and skills. QUIBBLES: The occasional interjection of British jargon and references to British locales or history was jarring to me, a foreign reader, but in general, the storyline is easy to understand. COMPLEMENTARY BOOKS: I enjoy all her books, and you might, too. This book above has turned out to be my favorite, although another Fitzgerald work, The Bookshop, is a close second. # # #

A splendid novel, like almost all of Fitzgerald's work

I wrote this review for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Penelope Fitzgerald won the Booker Prize in England for her 1978 novel "Offshore," but her reputation was slower to develop in this country. Over the past dozen years, her elegant, understated novels have won enthusiastic reviews and a small but appreciative audience, which has sufficed to keep them tenaciously in print. When "The Blue Flower" won the National Book Critics Circle Award last year, however, Fitzgerald suddenly became a popular success. Heartened by this, Houghton Mifflin has been reissuing several of her earlier novels (in paperback only, unfortunately), and "Human Voices," originally published in 1980, now appears in this country for the first time. Set in the summer of 1940, when England was undergoing daily bombardment and German invasion seemed imminent, the novel focuses on the BBC's Broadcasting House, which produced the Home News six times a day even as bombs fell over London. While civilians cope with adversity through self-denial and recycling ("The nation defended itself by counting large numbers of small things into separate containers"), the workers at BH deal with anxiety, depression, and worry over loved ones as they fulfill their schedule of news and features. This sounds like a recipe for a conventional novel about British determination and pluck, but Fitzgerald is in fact doing something more interesting. She notes that Broadcasting House followed a policy of offering truth rather than propaganda -- "Without prompting, the BBC had decided that truth was more important than consolation, and, in the long run, would be more effective" -- but then adds: "Truth ensures trust, but not victory, or even happiness." The major theme of Fitzgerald's fiction, the inadvisability of trying to avoid hurtful truths, can be glimpsed in these two sentences. This sounds pretty earnest, but "Human Voices" is in fact a deft and very funny novel, astute and sharply observed -- even rather consoling. The beleaguered BBC, operating like "a cross between a civil service, a powerful moral force, and an amateur theatrical company that wasn't too sure where next week's money was coming from," converts its concert-hall into a dormitory for the day when London is invaded and employees seal themselves into the building. As things turn out, the most action the space sees happens the evening when a young assistant crawls into a dark cubicle and goes into labor. The cast revolves around two middle-aged and unhappy men: Sam Brooks, the Director of Recorded Programmes, and Jeff Haggard, the Director of Programme Planning. (As though to convey the institution's sometimes irritating fussiness, the author usually refers to them simply as RPD and DPP.) With the assistance of a staff of surprisingly understanding teenaged assistants (one of them, finding a letter from her boyfriend largely blacked-out by the censor, thinks: "What a job having to go thro

Fitzgerald is always FANTASTIC!

Of course, the same can be said for several other novels by the sublime one, but I've been waiting a long time for a U.S. edition of Fitzgerald's take on the British Broadcasting Corporation during the Blitz. Each time I go to England, I buy a few copies, since I know friends will interpret any loan as a gift. And Human Voices is exactly that--packed with an ensemble of singular BBC employees, from the Director of Recorded Programs, whose department is known as "the Seraglio" (owing to his penchant for young female assistants) to the French General Pinard, who--instead of boosting national morale on air--urges all England to surrender: "When the Germans arrive, and at best it will be in a few weeks, don't think of resistance, don't think of history. Nothing is so ungrateful as history. Think of yourselves, your homes and gardens..." Luckily RPD had a feeling that Pinard would fink out and failed to record the "appeal"! Like all Fitzgerald's novels, Human Voices will make you want to rush back to the first page the minute you finish it. Bracing, mirth-making, and ever-provocative.
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