Human voices | Penelope Fitzgerald

In retrospect, I can see the title offers a clue to this disjointed, fragemented novel.

There’s no real narrative arc other than the backdrop of the war intensifying. Characters appear and disappear, come into sharp focus and intense scrutiny, then melt away. It’s episodic, sporadic and anecdotal – but such is life, and Penelope Fitzgerald’s distinctive style. Set in BBC Broadcasting House at the start of the Second World War, where the author worked during the Blitz, it’s a wonderfully rich insight into this complex and unique institution at a time of unique crisis. The mandate was to tell the truth (just imagine!) seen as a great responsibility and sacred duty, albeit it served by an absurd body of eccentrics, cynics, idealists and lost souls. It’s scrappy, but alive with detail, wry humour and oddly moving moments (again, such is life). Also kind of unsatisfying, due to the lack of structure or plot, but would probably be worth re-reading now I know not to expect those, as a newcomer to Fitzgerald, to savour the wit and observation instead of waiting for something to happen.