Human Voices

Human Voices

  • Paperback
By (author) Penelope Fitzgerald , Introduction by Mark Damazer


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From the Booker Prizewinning author of 'Offshore' and 'The Blue Flower'; a funny, touching, authentic story of life at Broadcasting House during the Blitz. The human voices of Penelope Fitzgerald's novel are those of the BBC in the first years of the World War II, the time when the Concert Hall was turned into a dormitory for both sexes, the whole building became a target for enemy bombers, and in the BBC - as elsewhere - some had to fail and some had to die, but where the Nine O'Clock News was always delivered, in impeccable accents, to the waiting nation.

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  • Paperback | 208 pages
  • 126 x 192 x 14mm | 158.76g
  • 30 Nov 1988
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • London
  • port.
  • 0006542549
  • 9780006542544
  • 108,802

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Author Information

Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. Three of her novels, The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She won the Prize in 1979 for Offshore. Her last novel, The Blue Flower, was the most admired novel of 1995, chosen no fewer than nineteen times in the press as the 'Book of the Year'. It won America's National Book Critics' Circle Award. She died in April 2000, at the age of eighty-three.

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Review quote

'Reading a Penelope Fitzgerald novel is like being taken for a ride in a peculiar kind of car. Everything is of top quality - the engine, the coachwork and the interior all fill you with confidence. Then, after a mile or so, someone throws the steering-wheel out of the window.' Sebastian Faulks 'Wise and ironic, funny and humane, Fitzgerald is a wonderful, wonderful writer.' David Nicholls 'Of all the novelists of the last quarter-century, she has the most unarguable claim on greatness. [It has been] a career we, as readers, can only count ourselves lucky to have lived through.' Philip Hensher, Spectator 'One of the pleasures of reading Penelope Fitzgerald is the unpredictability of her intelligence, which never loses its quality, but springs constant surprises, and if you make the mistake of reading her fast because she is so readable, you will miss some of the best jokes. This is a very funny novel.' The Times 'Comic, and sometimes extraordinarily sad.' A.S. Byatt, TLS

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Review text

Set in Broadcasting House at the start of the Second World War and first published in 1980, this is a tragi-comic novel about truth, love and survival. Booker Prize-winner Fitzgerald focuses on the eccentricities of the English at war; she shows how people cope, and falter, under tremendous pressure. As France falls to the Nazis, London enters a new phase of unease. The BBC concert hall is turned into emergency accommodation and Broadcasting House becomes a target for air raids. Against this setting, we follow the working lives of a core of BBC staff. Directors struggle to maintain national morale; young employees try to balance work against sexuality. As ever, Fitzgerald's characterization is brilliant and succinct. Her two Directors, Jeff Haggard and Sam Brooks, are leviathan figures around whom all else revolves. Jeff's brusque, tender manner counterpoints Sam's self-delusion and insouciance. Particularly well etched is the growing love between Sam and Annie Asra, a candid young employee. Seemingly trapped in a love without hope, Annie eventually proves herself as a seductress. The BBC itself dominates, however. Although cosmopolitan, the institution emerges as strange and secluded. Described as an exhilarating ocean liner ready to scorn disaster, Broadcasting House harbours obsessive behaviour and eccentricity. Fitzgerald delights in Jeff's fixation with truth, and in the engineers' quest to record the 'sound' of Englishness. In our media-wary age, Fitzgerald's central theme is refreshing. Truth is shown to be more important than consolation: the BBC serves its listeners ethically and responsibly. Jeff Haggard may be aware of the difference between truth and contingency but he remains an example to 21st-century journalists. Human Voices evokes 1940s London with both humour and a horrible clarity, using the BBC and its peculiar employees to remind us just how much integrity was at stake during the war. (Kirkus UK)

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