Human Voices (1980)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

Penelope Fitzgerald drew on her experience in her 20s working for the BBC during World War II to write Human Voices. In the character-driven novel, readers meet a diverse cast of BBC employees whose mission is to deliver the truth about the war to listeners on the homefront. Sam Brooks, the technically brilliant but self-centered RPD (recording program director), likes to hire young female assistants in whom he can confide. Sam complains to his level-headed friend Jeff Haggard, DPP (director of program planning), whenever he feels his department is underappreciated. The young assistants range from the practical Vi to the idealistic Willie to Annie, an orphaned teenager who falls in love with Sam.

Broadcasting House in London is vulnerable to bombing. No one doubts the urgency of the mission. As in battle, not everyone survives. Fitzgerald offsets tension, however, with comic episodes and dialogue. The result is a novel that is both moving and funny.


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