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Human Voices

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  1,400 ratings  ·  188 reviews
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 f
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Paperback, 200 pages
Published 2003 by Flamingo (first published 1980)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  1,400 ratings  ·  188 reviews


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Petra X is feeling very sad
This is about working at the sexist BBC news service during WWII where the female broadcasters, then as now, had to be slim, pretty and young. Doesn't matter that it is only their voices that are important, the men of the BBC don't want fat old bats around. (view spoiler)

Then as now the BBC is always subjective, they were very economical with the truth. They make
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Fionnuala
There's a scene in this book, one of many scenes, where a character, one of many characters, is shelling peas. She is surprised when one of the pods she cracks open contains seven peas instead of the usual five. I feel a bit like her at the moment, though my experience is the opposite. For the last couple of weeks I've been cracking open book after book by Penelope Fitzgerald, and there are more peas than normal in all of them!

Yes, these books are not regular-shaped or averagely-constructed. Th
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Violet wells
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
I complained that The Book Shop had too much straining for plot for my liking; conversely, this has too little. There's something very claustrophobic about this book, as if it's never been aired outside of Fitzgerald's imagination. It felt eerily like one was going into her head. I think you can tell by her books that Penelope Fitzgerald was a very lonely woman. It's sometimes like she's not aware of the reader, doesn't even expect to have any. As if as long as she understands what's going on th ...more
Jean-Luke
Hold Muriel Sparks's The Girls of Slender Means up in a mirror and I have no doubt that you will see this book reflected back at you. I don't know what it is with me and stories set during WWII--not war novels--but those that examine the lives of civilians who (in the case of stories set in London) watch as a city falls apart around them. In this case the civilians are employees working at the BBC. A communal spoon tied to the cash register with a string in the cafeteria, the 'luxury' of oranges ...more
Susan
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having recently read, “Auntie’s War,” a non-fiction title about the BBC during WWII, I was keen to read this novel, which is also set at Broadcasting House during the war. Penelope Fitzgerald herself worked at the BBC during the Blitz. Although, as a woman, she never felt she had the prospects for a major role, she did have a ringside seat to events at this time, and this short novel does have a ring of absurd authenticity about it.

During the war, the BBC dedicated itself to a strange, and nove
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Teresa
Feb 22, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”

The above line from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock planted itself in my head from the title page onward. Human voices are a necessary tool of the BBC, the setting of this novel, though some acronyms (men in charge) like classical music more: Be sure the recording isn’t flat. (There’s lots of deadpan humor in this book.) It’s London in 1940 and prerecorded voices are projected to both inform and calm the public as the war gets closer to
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Anastasia Hobbet
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Penelope Fitzgerald is one of the finest writers of the 20th century. In the British firmament, she's right up there with Virginia Woolf, and Woolf would have given her rave reviews if only she'd lived long enough to read her books. In Human Voices, as in all Fitzgerald's novels, most of the drama and interaction of characters is under the surface, revealed in the most artful strokes of the pen. The economy of this book is remarkable. At the end--and I've now read it several times--I always sit ...more
Sam Schulman
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful and slender, but funny a la mode de Cold Comfort Farm - about the BBC in wartime, its office politics and men and women - a bit of Terry Gilliam's Brazil in feeling, but much more vivid. And then suddenly a change in tone - and one of the most beautiful descriptions of falling in love, ever - and one of the best lessons in what it must feel like to be a woman, ever.
And then every paragraph can be like this:
The truth was that she was almost too well trained in endurance, having drawn s
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J.
Sep 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
A petite fictional memoir from the Battle Of Britain, that somehow manages to be short, sweet, and light in its touch. While punching well above its weight or page count. Human Voices succeeds in putting real persons behind the glowing dials of the radio sets of the era, and manages to make real people out of what might have been stock characters. Author Fitzgerald spares her readers the typical 'In Which We Serve' treatment by marshalling interesting minutiae, slice of life reportage, and whene ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I'm more likely to appreciate British wit and humor than that of my own country. However, I'm sure I missed almost all of it here. Except maybe this, when I actually laughed out loud:
I’m not sure I’ve made myself absolutely clear about my wife. Leaving London was her idea, not mine. I don’t want you to think she’s in any way out of the picture, just because she’s never here. She sent me a photograph of the tractor ...
Part of the problem in this was that there were a lot of acronyms, and I had a
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Bettie
Nov 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners


1. 4 Extra Debut. Wartime in Broadcasting House, and myriad hopes and fears come and go in the course of newsgathering. Read by Penelope Wilton.

2. Wartime in Broadcasting House sees a visit from a boozy French General with misguided words of hope.

3. Wartime in Broadcasting House. American reporters arrive from France, and odd living arrangements are made.

4. Wartime in Broadcasting House. We learn of Annie, her piano tuner Dad and her spirited first day.

5. Wartime in Broadcasting House. Annie's
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Lizzie
I was looking forward to this one but with some hesitance. After a night with the first few pages, it was obliged to wait on my nightstand for a few weeks, and the whole time I wondered. It isn’t a smooth read, more of a jumble of sharp-edged bits that you bump alongside. It’s also almost fatally opaque, which made it hard to get through the first chapter or two. But I loved it all the same. It’s wry and sad, and astoundingly crisp.

Its outpouring of scenes from 1940 London are beyond vivid, des
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Kate
May 19, 2009 added it
I fear that Penelope Fitzgerald and I are not meant for one another. Human Voices was highly recommended by friends whose opinions I trust and whose tastes I often share. It's set in WWII London, where I've chosen to spend a good deal of my reading time lately. And it's about the BBC, an institution for which I have a great fondness. It ought to have been perfect for me, but, alas, it was not.

There was something about the style that Fitzgerald employed in the novel that scattered my attentio
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Richard Moss
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Penelope Fitzgerald's career broadly falls into two stages (both arriving relatively late in life). Her last four novels are her masterpieces, and largely stem from her imagination. I think they represent some of the very best of 20th Century British literature.

Her earlier novels were more based on her own life experience - the best being the Booker winner Offshore, and The Bookshop.

Human Voices is based on Fitzgerald's time working at the BBC in London in World War Two.

On the face of it the no
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John
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
I remember in the weeks after 9/11 listening to WNYC, the local NYC public radio station. Their FM antenna was on the World Trade Center and it went to static immediately when the planes hit, and their studios were in lower Manhattan, so they had to broadcast out of another office uptown, sending their signal out from a tower somewhere in New Jersey. The voices sounded fuzzy and full of a sad confusion, and the regular music that filled the spaces between segments was no longer the usual bourgie ...more
Vanora Bennett
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this

What a marvellous writer Penelope F is. Who’d have thought you could tell a story about BBC staff during the Second World War and make it so much more? Off to read another book by her at once.
JacquiWine
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 Stars

First published in 1980, Human Voices was Penelope Fitzgerald’s fourth novel, a story set largely within the confines of the BBC during the London Blitz. Like both its predecessors (The Bookshop and Offshore), Human Voices was inspired by experiences from Fitzgerald’s own life as she worked for the Corporation while WWII was underway.

Over the course of this novel, Fitzgerald paints a vivid picture of life at the BBC, complete with all its foibles and idiosyncrasies. She is particularly
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Elena Sala
Human Voices, Fitzgerald's fourth novel is a light, funny and accurate recreation of the BBC in wartime. But aside from the comedy, there is a love story - silent, hopeless, perpetual (a theme which will become persistent in her fiction)-, a sense of danger and anguish, a meditation on truth and a sort of wistful remembrance of her younger self.
Fitzgerald started to work at the BBC in December 1940 so she had a first hand experience of what it was like working there during the Blitz. She used t
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Lynda
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Currently reading alongside Hermione Lees biography. It begins thus : "Inside Broadcasting House, the Department of Recorded Programmes was sometimes called the Seraglio because its Director found he could work better when surrounded by young women' and so the tone is set.

Finished this novella this morning. Fitzgerald like Spark and Bainbridge has the ability to conjure up an era and a cast of characters within a short novel and yet to skillfully ensure that we know and care about these characte
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Elisabeth Cohen
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love so many of Penelope Fitzgerald's books for their unexpectedness and dry humor. This is one of my favorites, in part because of the setting at Broadcasting House during WWII. ...more
Greg
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the third book I've read by this author. The first was "The Bookshop" which I rated 2 stars. The second was "Offshore" which I rated 3 stars. But this one, "Human Voices" is my favorite so far (I will be reading more of this author). "Human Voices" is a subtle comedy, a farce, and the jokes come fast and furious. This was a one-sit read for me and it reminded me very much of Austen's comedic masterpiece, "Sense and Sensibility." Yes, Fitzgerald is that good. And I think Fitzgerald, for m ...more
Dave
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great, droll book about working for the BBC during WWII. I've never read Fitzgerald before, so maybe this is not the best example, but she seems a master of understatement, ironic commentary, and well-observed quirkiness-without-caricature. The plot is loose and characters talk at cross-purposes and then disappear the way they do in real life--getting sick, going off to life elsewhere--except without walking outside of the book's ironic eye. But it's a very warm and affectionate ironic eye.

My fa
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Pamela
Aug 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: group-rttc
This novel brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of Broadcasting House, home of the BBC, during 1940. As London struggles with the Blitz, the BBC employees carry on with their mission to bring the truth to their listeners. Fitzgerald takes us into the lives of some of these employees, from department directors to lowly Programming Assistants, and shows us their human strengths and foibles, their relationships and rivalries.

I really enjoyed reading about the wartime BBC, Fitzgerald brought it to life
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Marian
Dec 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Masterful. One of those seemingly effortless novels that make you blind with envy. She does it all with a very small number of rounded characters. And these are rendered with such elegant economy, it's hard to see how she does it. Bravo. She may be moving into my "favorite writer" column. I intend to read the rest of her novels early next year. (Have read and loved The Bookshop already.) ...more
Andy Weston
My second 'life during wartime' novel of the week is set a couple of years earlier than Lorac's, with a change of location, from the relatively undisturbed farms of the Lune Valley to the chaos of Broadcasting House during the air raids. Fitzgerald's setting provides an evocative sense of the urgency of the war, with reporters rushing around, bombs shattering buildings, and barracks being constructed as the BBC endeavours to carry on. Its a tribute to the writing that in the space of 143 pages s ...more
Chris
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk-reads, 2018-reads
I read this book because Kate Atkinson said this book influenced her latest novel, "Transcription." My advice would be skip this book and go straight to Atkinson's, it was so much better.

This was my second Fitzgerald in as many months and I've come to the conclusion she's just not a writer for me; I'm presuming it is her style. Her dialogue just doesn't work for me and both books had multiple characters, which I just found confusing.
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Jan
This short novel is about the BBC in 1940.
Jillian
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was sometimes a bit obtuse for my liking, but it had enough humor and insight to carry me along. I ended up enjoying it, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending.
Crystal
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know, I've taken a liking towards Penelope Fitzgerald. There's something about the way she's able to so quietly transcribe the absurdity of human life. ...more
Ruth
Dec 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: london
I've completely run out of steam on the reading front at the moment - I can't remember when I was less inspired! I should have liked this book as it was about London, WW2 Home Front and the BBC but somehow I couldn't engage with it.

I hate giving less than 4 stars because actually I normally give up if I'm not enjoying a book but because of the subject matter I felt I ought to persevere and managed to drag myself to the end of it.

It reminded me a bit of Evelyn Waugh is his flippant mode, with u
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Reading the 20th ...: Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald (September 2018) 88 41 Mar 23, 2019 07:17AM  

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Penelope Fitzgerald was an English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In 2012, The Observer named her final novel, The Blue Flower, as one of "the ten best historical novels".

Fitzgerald was the author of nine novels. Her novel Offshore was the winner of the Booker Prize. A further three novels — The B
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