Radio Girls: A Novel. Sarah-Jane Stratford. Penguin Group (USA). June 2016. 384pp. ISBN#: 9780451475565.
It’s 1926, a time when change is happening globally as life settles down after the awful events of WWI. Maisie Musgrave is poor and unemployed but aims high by applying for a typist position at the BBC or British Broadcasting Corporation. Talk radio is in its early days and is catching on fast in spite of the hefty price to purchase a radio license. After a difficult interview when the interviewer indicates Maisie isn’t up to snuff as the type of person BBC hires, need rules the day and the same day she’s hired. Her first Supervisor is a tough, tight lady who rules like a dictator, but Maisie quickly demonstrates her ability to be flexible and highly focused and becomes the assistant to Hilda Matheson, Director of the Talks Program, the latter who is actually based on the real person of that name and job. Their liberal attitudes are constantly monitored by John Reith, the General Director-General of BBC.
Two years later, in 1928, women over 21 may now vote in the general election. The talks program moves from literature, entertainment, and other relatively innocent topics to politics, social change, and literature by authors of questionable moral values (for that time), and more. Readers cannot help but react to the changes happening under Hilda and Maisie’s guiding hands. However, Maisie is now getting the hang of writing and has a veritably unlimited list of famous people of all economic, social, religious, literary, and artistic merit whose talks are making the program so popular as to be covered by the newspapers. While the majority of the letters and editorials are positive, there are many who fear “change” and so urge caution with future topics.
At this time Maisie reads a certain pamphlet belonging to Hilda. The topic makes Maisie suspicious, the taking over of BBC and beginning topics that are more sedate and acceptable. At the same time some large companies are interested in increasing their profit by engaging with business and government in Germany. The remainder of the novel describes Maisie’s investigation and shocking discoveries. Here then is another novel, written in a mystery style, that addresses the supposedly innocuous ways that dictatorships rise to power under the guise of shaping public values and opinions.
Hilda and Maisie are dynamic characters whose interaction with each other and other notable character inside and outside of the BBC are so intriguing as to keep the reader riveted to this story which ends far too soon. This reviewer loved the style, the way the plot complexity increases to the level of final high pitch, the intriguing story of how radio talk shows began and developed, and how prosperity jettisons a country into new and different ways of perceiving culture. A brief biography of Hilda Matheson and a Reader’s Discussion Guide follows the novel. Magnificent writing and story, Sarah-Jane Stratford!!!! A MUST read!!!