Another free book disclaimer as I received my copy of Hearts and Minds this week after the author, Rosy Thornton, offered copies via a BookRabbit forum.
Hearts and Minds is set in the fictional St Radegund's College, Cambridge where James Rycarte has just been controversially appointed as the new "Mistress" of an all female college. Dr Martha Pearce is the St Rad's Senior Tutor who is juggling the needs of her administrative and lecturing duties with a daughter who has just given up her A-levels and a husband who is ostensibly working on writing a collection of poems written in Italian. In spite of her reservations about his appointment, Martha provides James with advice and support as he battles to prove his ability to a resistant staff and student body.
Wearing her other hat, Rosy Thornton is a lecturer and Fellow in Law at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. This could well explain why some of the scenes, and the polarising debate about the final choice of curtain fabric for the common room springs to mind here, are an all too accurate observation of the internal politics of college life both from the perspective of the staff and the students.
I've saved the best bit, although this could be fairly subjective, about the book for last. It's got a (sadly minor) character called Peta in it! This is the first time I've seen my name featured in a work of fiction since my Maths GCSE exam, and that was an awfully long time ago, so this makes it a very special book indeed.
More seriously, Hearts and Minds was not the book I expected to be reading judging by the cover. It's not what I'd term "chick lit" at all - and no offence is meant by using that term - which is the kind of book that I expected to be reading having spied the pastels and dove-with-a-heart on the cover. Rosy Thornton has created some very diverse, and delightful, characters to inhabit her Cambridge college and the concerns they face are realistic and sympathetically portrayed. I don't think I've seen such an acute observation of "behind scenes" university life since reading Robertson Davies years ago.
I enjoyed this clever and amusing book very much and I'd love to see her to return to St Radegund's in the future.
First up, visit Rosy's website then over on Normblog Rosy writes about Gaskell's North and South and on Vulpes Libris is her entertaining soapbox rant entitled Books Should be Books about bookshop classifications and their review of Hearts and Minds.