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Hearts and Minds (thoughts)

May 15, 2008

Apparently, bicycles are the most common way to get around Cambridge.I’d seen great reviews on Rosy Thorton’s Hearts and Minds on several of my favourite blogs, and the idea of a cozy Cambridge academia story sounded great, so I left a comment on Dorothy’s review mentioning that I’d been coveting it. Well, it turns out Rosy saw my comment and offered to send me a copy! Squee! It came in the mail quite quickly, and I think about thirty-six hours later I’d finished it.

The book covers an academic year at one of Cambridge’s all women’s colleges. It’s a year of changes for many of the main characters: a new ‘Mistress’ of the school arrives, but since James Rycarte’s a man, he faces an uphill struggle to win over the Fellows (who, by college by-law, are all women). The Senior Tutor, Martha Pierce, must deal with problems at home and the knowledge that she must find a new job, not easy as an academic who hasn’t published in several years. One of the Fellows, , is determined to make Rycarte fail, and circumstances seem to be in her favour: the students have gone on rent strike to protest rising costs, the college’s library is sinking, and when an old Italian friend of Rycarte offers to make a generous financial contribution, the college’s academic integrity is suddenly called into question.

Emmanuel College, where Rosy Thorton lectures.I found this book perfectly charming: Thornton has a hyper-realist writing style, which for the first few pages worried me, but by page ten I was completely drawn in, and all of the details make the novel come to life. My knowledge of Oxbridge stuff is pretty much drawn from Dorothy L. Sayers’, but Thorton (a Cambridge lecturer herself) manages to plunge the reader directly into the experience and at the same time explain many of the little quirks that demand an explanation (it helps that Rycarte is new to the Oxbridge scene as well, so Martha is essentially both his and the reader’s guide). The plot was intruiging, but the characters are definitely at the heart of this book. Thornton jumps around to various points of view, which is interesting, but the bulk of the story is told from Martha and Rycarte’s perspectives. Both of them are intelligent, caring characters, so I immediately felt a connection to them.

Punting-possibly Cambridge's most famous hobby!This was a perfect book to spend several hours with, curled up under a cozy blanket and with a nice mug of milky tea (have I mentioned it snowed here again? in May?). According to her website, Thornton started writing fiction after seeing Richard Armitage in the BBC’s production of North and South: isn’t that a wonderfully random beginning?! For a sample of Thorton’s prose (and her obvious love of books), check out this thoughtful article published on Vulpes Libris about the categorisation of books. Anyway, I’d highly recommend snagging a copy of this one. But don’t take my word for it! There are excellent, and more comprehensive, reviews to be found by Ravenous Reader, Verbivore, Stefanie, Litlove, and Dorothy. Meanwhile, I shall be searching for Thornton’s first book, More Than Love Letters!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2008 12:35 am

    I hadn’t heard of this one before and it sounds really interesting. Thanks very much for the review.

  2. May 16, 2008 1:08 am

    Those are beautiful pictures. I miss college. It’s so pretty and so much fun.

    Great review.

  3. May 16, 2008 3:58 am

    Another wonderful review, Eva!

  4. rosythornton permalink
    May 16, 2008 4:04 am

    So glad you enjoyed the book, Eva! You have even managed to find a picture of my own college, Emmanuel. That’s it with the colonnaded courtyard and the big gold and blue chapel clock. I’m sitting typing this about twenty yards from there. (Waves.)

  5. May 16, 2008 5:16 am

    Thanks for the review, it sounds good. Love the picture’s they bring back memories! I fell in that river once and my husband’s college room was in the arch way of the building in the last picture :)

  6. Christine permalink
    May 16, 2008 5:58 am

    That sounds lovely. I’m just now reading Sayers’s Gaudy Night, so I’m getting the other half of Oxbridge.

  7. May 16, 2008 6:27 am

    I have read many of the reviews that you mention here, and I have been meaning to get a copy of this one. It does sound really good. These pictures you include here are gorgeous. However, I can’t get past the fact that you said you had snow in May! And here I’ve been complaining about temperatures dropping into the 50s and 60s in the evening.

  8. May 16, 2008 9:52 am

    Kerry, I’m glad you liked it!

    Nikki, I miss parts of college. :D I’m hoping grad school will be the pretty and fun parts and not the drama and angst parts! lol

    Debi, thanks!

    Rosy, thanks for sending me a copy! And I did a Google Image search to find Emmanuel, because I’m curious like that; that’s neat that you’re right by that building!

    Marmite and Tea, that so’s cool! Didn’t know you were a Cambridge girl. :D

    Christine, ohhhh-I love Gaudy Night!! Def. one of my very favourite Sayers.

    Lisa, yeah-I’m living in the mountains right now. I will never, ever do so again. The day before it snowed, it hit 75 degrees. I don’t understand how anyone lives in these kind of conditions. I’m a south Texan gal, so I complain about 60 degree nights too!

  9. May 16, 2008 10:23 am

    I miss Cambridge, loved going down by the colleges and the rivers on lazy Sunday mornings

  10. May 16, 2008 11:19 am

    The book sounds wonderful – excellent review, Eva! I’ll have to get my mitts on a copy.

    I cannot fathom snow in May. It’s cool, today, for MS. But, the pollen is driving me crazy so I’m not out planting as I should be. I love cool weather, myself. I’ll never stop missing snow!!

  11. May 16, 2008 11:44 am

    Rosy is sending me a copy too! I can’t wait to read it.

  12. May 16, 2008 6:46 pm

    Isn’t it a fun book? You are right, the characters are the heart of the book. I love the photos you found, especially the one with all the bicycles!

  13. May 16, 2008 7:00 pm

    The last academia story I read was Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. It was recommended by a book blogger as well. This one sounds really good. Thanks for the heads up. :)

  14. May 16, 2008 7:41 pm

    Oh what fun! I definitely need to get my paws on this one!

  15. May 17, 2008 5:11 am

    Great review — wasn’t it a very satisfying read? It was just what I needed at the time.

  16. May 17, 2008 4:18 pm

    It was a wonderful tale, wasn’t it? I loaned mine to a friend, or I’d be tempted to read it again :)

  17. May 17, 2008 4:19 pm

    Forgot to say how much I loved the pictures…it was just three years ago this week I was punting down that river.


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