Hearts and Minds (thoughts)
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.
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.
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!