Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton
|Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton
|Category: Women's Fiction
|Reviewer: Sue Magee
|Summary: A thought-provoking look at the world of the male Head of a Cambridge College for women. It's a book to amuse, entertain and make you think. Beware though - you'll have a job getting the characters out of your mind! Highly recommended.
|Date: November 2007
|Publisher: Headline Review
For one hundred and sixty years St Radegund's College has admitted only women and the Head of House has always been female, but it has recently broken with tradition and appointed James Rycarte to the position. He's a former BBC executive and his experience of academia ended with his graduation many years before. Parts of the college buildings need urgent repair but St Radegund's lacks the funds to carry out the work. This isn't his only problem though. His appointment wasn't universally welcomed and some of the feminist Fellows (if that doesn't sound like a contradiction in terms) would like to see him depart as quickly as possible.
Dr Martha Pearce, the Senior Tutor, wasn't in favour of the appointment but gives Rycarte her support. He, in turn becomes increasingly dependent upon her - a divorced male Head of House in a Cambridge college for women is bound to be somewhat isolated. Martha has problems of her own though. Her husband is little more than a drain on the family purse and her teenage daughter is suffering from depression. Her job as Senior Tutor is coming to an end but over the last ten years she's had little chance to do the academic work which she needs to get another job.
I loved this book, which came as something of a surprise to me. Stories of how women cope in a 'man's world' are two a penny and in reversing the twist I expected that Rosy Thornton would produce a light, frothy novel which would entertain and amuse me. I expected to enjoy the book - I didn't expect a thought-provoking look at how the collegial system operates, the moral dilemma of whether or not a college should accept funds from the parent of a child applying for a place at the college or how deeply one should enquire into the source of such funding. This isn't light chick lit. Whilst it will probably appeal more to women than men it's writing that will make you think and form your own opinions.
I found myself completely involved with the characters. They're rounded, real people, struggling with personal problems whilst doing the best they can professionally. It's a few days since I finished reading the book and they're all still there in my mind. I find myself wondering how they're getting on and I can't quite believe that they're not real people that I know. I read a lot of books - few characters stay with me like this.
Rosy Thornton has wisely stuck to writing about what she knows best. She's a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and it's obvious that she knows exactly how the collegial system works with all its advantages and pitfalls. If I have one quibble about the book it's that I felt the Fellows changed their minds on a point of principle which I could never have accommodated. No - I'm not going to tell you what it is. You'll have to read the book and decide for yourself whether or not I'm being picky.
I'd like to thank the author for sending this book to The Bookbag.
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