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on 21 October 2011
It's a small corner of the WW2 Home Front but one Penelope Fitzgerald knew from personal experience - the Transcription Department of BBC Broadcasting House at the beginning of the London Blitz. Public broadcasting is less than twenty years old but working for the BBC is essential war work, like joining the Women's Land Army or volunteering for the Auxiliary Fire Service. With exquisite lightness of touch Fitzgerald blends the eccentricities of the BBC's Old Servants with the randomness of life as the bombs starts to fall. 'Human Voices' captivated me from start to finish and I am busily tracking down more of Fitzgerald's work. I'm particularly looking forward to her biography of that distinctly odd Victorian painter, Burne-Jones.
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HALL OF FAMEon 1 December 2002
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.
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on 1 October 2009
This is without doubt the best book, ever, about the BBC, full of archetypes who are as alive now as they were in the wartime period she describes. Funny, memorable and achingly true.
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on 14 April 2016
This review is NOT for the novel but for the quality of the printed book. I LOVE Penelope Fitzgerald and Human Voices is wonderful - I like it so much I bought this copy for a friend to enjoy. However the cover is thin, and the pages so thin you can see the print on the other side - same design as my copy, utterly inferior quality. Is it a fake or have the printers just cut costs? For £8.99 it is shocking but frankly no book should be printed like this. £1 World Classics are better! I bought Offshore at the same time, same series, and it is the original quality. I am a bit perplexed.
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on 28 February 2012
My mother was a close colleague of Penelope Fitzgerald's in the department depicted in this terrific quirky book, and she can confirm that it's a wickedly accurate description of the atmosphere, activities and personnel, particularly of the young-lady-loving director!
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on 21 March 2016
Set in the BBC (Langham Place) at the end of 1930s and into the years of the Second World War. Sharp and funny, in true Penelope Fitzgerald way, many engaging characters, although on this occasion it is possible to confuse two or three of them and to confuse their names
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on 15 August 2016
From a different world when everything seemed much gentler even though death and destruction was all around during the War. Very humorous if not laugh out loud funny and really should be read by anyone with even a passing interest in the BBC who might think that not a lot has changed. I will certainly hunt out more Penelope Fitzgerald.
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VINE VOICEon 20 November 2015
This author was working for the BBC during 1940 when the novel is set. That gave her an unusual insight and opportunity to reveal some of the background characters which she certainly does.
She treats her characters very kindly based on the values of society at the time. And it is those values which I found to be the most interesting element of this novel - 1940 really isn't a long time ago but attitudes to women and class are so blatent that this story feels as though it were set hundreds of years ago.
There is a light comedic tone to the whole book which, I think, is where it fails. If the comedy is believed then the characters become pitiful and that seems a shame of such well meaning people. I really felt the characters were real people but I felt sorry for them all which I don't think is what the author was trying to achieve. It's OK to mock the BBC as an organisation but I don't think it's fair to mock the individuals within it.
I suspect that some of my reservations are due to the old fashioned feel. Some readers will love the nostalgia but it wasn't for me.
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on 18 January 2015
A glimpse into the BBC in the Second World War. Billed as a classic, but not really one. A period piece, worth reading on a wet Sunday afternoon when you have nothing better to do. Not appalling. But not great. 'Okay' is about right.
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on 4 September 2014
This first hand account of work at the BBC in 1942 captures for me not just the terror of the blitz but the dogged spirit of those determined to remain unbowed.
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