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.
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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