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Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald
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Human Voices (original 1980; edition 1988)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

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2691042,232 (3.63)20
Member:dylanwolf
Title:Human Voices
Authors:Penelope Fitzgerald
Info:Flamingo, 1988.
Collections:DOC - FRI
Rating:
Tags:England, read

Work details

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald (1980)

Recently added bycraskind, private library, bodachliath, Willoyd, sonofcarc, hardlyhardy, plaugher, EllenBeu, mollygrace
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I loved the ingredients of this story - Penelope Fitzgerald's style and wit, the glimpse into the past of both London during the Second World War and the BBC, the character vignettes - but unfortunately the novel as a whole failed to come together for me. Two ridiculous men, whose job titles are a jumble of letters, and the underlings who serve them at Broadcasting House (beautifully described as looking like an ocean liner with the wrong kind of windows) navigate a range of national and personal obstacles ('We're only really at home in the middle of total disaster'). Other than that, I'm not sure there is a plot, and the final twist in the tale is just pointlessly cruel. However, I will not be put off reading more of Penelope Fitzgerald's stories because of this non-starter. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Nov 16, 2014 |
Set amidst the arcane workings of the BBC at its Broadcasting House headquarters in central London during the darkest days of WWII, Human Voices follows the passions and whimsy of senior staff and junior staff as they struggle to make themselves heard in a world turned on its edge. Fitzgerald’s BBC emerges from her direct experience at the time, but even thirty or sixty years after the events depicted, much of the aura of the BBC remains. The Corporation, as it is sometimes called, is like a hulking vessel being manoeuvred by minuscule human tugboats. Yet somehow, as Fitzgerald makes clear, it really is individuals, real live human beings who make this beloved institution function. And perhaps that is why so many of us are committed to it despite its faults.

At times the writing is brilliantly funny. At times it is incredibly atmospheric, almost as chaotic as the myriad of storylines and interests racing through the city at that time. But it is the characters, or rather the characters with Character that make this story come to life. Fitzgerald abjures caricature. The characters, however peculiar they might appear, are entirely recognisable British figures. That she can make us care for them is a remarkable testament to her skill. And while the madcap nature of some of the events links this novel back to her first hilarious effort with The Golden Child, the studied intelligence of the presentation of an entire complex, even byzantine, structure points towards Fitzgerald’s late great novels.

Pleasantly recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Dec 1, 2013 |
A quiet novel about ordinary Londoners, working at the BBC, coping with life during the blitz. This is a very short novel, even allowing for the concision of style, and in many ways reads like a short story or even a series of vignettes or sketches. Fitzgerald's exposition is compressed in a way that makes the reader feel as if he is supposed to know the background already (characters are casually mentioned before we are told who they are, for instance). And it is true, that for Americans at least, there is much background that we may lack. Mysteriously, however, one begins to care about the characters without being aware of how one has gotten to know them. ( )
  sjnorquist | Oct 17, 2013 |
I didn't really get this book, I didn't particularly enjoy it and I am just glad it was only brief. ( )
  qofd | May 19, 2012 |
I was actually looking for Offshore, Fitzgerald's Booker Prize winning book, but came across this one in the second hand bookshop instead. I'm glad I did, I'll definitely be looking out for more of her books. This story is based at BBC Broadcasting House in the Second World War (a situation I think the author had first hand knowledge of). It's quite odd in some ways, full of acronyms that aren't always explained, and populated with characters who may or may not stay for the course of the book. I found it totally charming to read though. And very funny in places to boot.
2 vote nocto | Dec 8, 2010 |
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Inside Broadcasting House, the Department of Recorded Programmes was sometimes called the Seraglio, because its Director found that he could work better when surrounded by young women.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039595617X, Paperback)

In 1940, as World War II heats up, the BBC is doing its best to fulfill its singular mission: saving Britain from despondency and panic without resorting to lies. "Broadcasting House was in fact dedicated to the strangest project of the war, or of any war, that is, telling the truth." Surrounded by sandbags that are literally going to seed, this London landmark has come to resemble an ocean liner both inside and out. "With the best engineers in the world," Penelope Fitzgerald observes, "and a crew varying between the intensely respectable and the barely sane, it looked ready to scorn any disaster of less than Titanic scale." Though there are no icebergs in Human Voices, Fitzgerald's perfectly pitched 1980 novel, danger does loom on several decks.

For a start, the Department of Recorded Programmes (DRP) is in for a shakeup. Sam Brooks, its director (RPD), has long ruffled the Controllers' feathers owing to his need for several nubile assistants--no wonder his unit is sometimes labeled the Seraglio. This time, however, his penchant for young women isn't the issue. Instead, it's the fact that RPD takes his calling too seriously. For instance, in response to a directive that England's heritage not be lost, he and a crack team once spent two weeks recording a creaky church door in Heather Lickington. At this point, only Jeff Haggard, the Director of Programme Planning (DPP), can save Sam; but having done that for the past 10 years, DPP is suffering from severe BBC battle fatigue.

As Penelope Fitzgerald follows this pair--and several other employees--her novel melds tragedy, surrealism, and satire into one endlessly surprising whole. As ever, she captures the momentous in the smallest moment--the joys of an orange in wartime, the pleasures of piano tuning, and the painful twists of love. When the newest member of the Seraglio makes the mistake (or is it?) of falling for RPD, she does so

absolutely, and hers must have been the last generation to fall in love without hope in such an unproductive way. After the war the species no longer found it biologically useful, and indeed it was not useful to Annie. Love without hope grows in its own atmosphere, and should encourage the imagination, but Annie's grew narrower.
As is evident in this acute passage, and in virtually every other in Human Voices, Fitzgerald can pivot from sorrow to humor by way of pessimism and desire and then back again. If you so much as blink you'll miss one of the book's key turns or unexpected pleasures. No matter. Penelope Fitzgerald's human comedy always rewards rereading. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:35 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A wacky novel on the British Broadcasting Corporation in the early stages of World War II. Romances bloom and a conscientious program director requests equipment to record the expected German invasion. By the author of The Blue Flower.

(summary from another edition)

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