A bright, appealing novel about the early days of the BBC and the women behind its brilliant programming.
When Maisie Musgrave finds a job as a secretary at the new, and rather controversial, British Broadcasting Corporation, she’s grateful: Maisie is a plain, inexperienced girl, and in the years after the first world war, employment can be hard to find. At first, she feels out of place at the BBC; the halls are abuzz, the employees flush with excitement over the new technology. Stratford (The Moonlight Brigade, 2011, etc.) is wonderful in her depictions of that ferment, the democratizing new media which broadcasts information to masses of people: “From Penzance to John o’Groats, anyone who had a wireless and the license fee could tune in and hear a symphony, poetry, gardening advice, a thriller, a debate, scenes from new plays, sporting events, stories about places scattered throughout the globe, because why shouldn’t a farmwife in South Yorkshire know something of Shanghai, or San Francisco, or São Paulo?” Soon, Maisie finds a mentor in the brilliant and charismatic Hilda Matheson, director of the Talks Department, which broadcasts lectures on nearly every subject imaginable, from literature to politics to gardening. The BBC is one of the only companies to allow female employees to advance beyond the secretarial level, and Hilda is radiant in her prominent position. She’s also kind and exceedingly generous toward the young Maisie, who begins to follow in her footsteps. It isn’t long before Maisie is promoted and finds her ambitions expanding beyond the husband and family that were once all she yearned for. This depiction of female friendship and support is one of the great strengths of Stratford’s novel, which so capably describes its characters’ thirst for knowledge, for information of all kinds. But the book falters when it ventures into a conspiracy involving British fascists, secret meetings, and MI5. Maisie’s attempts at sleuthing strain belief. Still, the novel is so energetic and fresh, it more than makes up for its missteps.
An intoxicating look inside a world of innovative new media.