Hearts and Minds

Hearts & Minds

Hardback 2007, Paperback June 2008.

St Radegund’s College, Cambridge, which admits only women students, breaks with 160 years of tradition to appoint a man, former BBC executive James Rycarte, to be its new Head of House. As Rycarte fights to win over the Fellowship in the face of opposition from a group of feminist dons, the Senior Tutor, Dr Martha Pearce, has her own struggles: an academic career in stagnation, a depressed teenage daughter and a marriage which may be foundering. Meanwhile the college library is subsiding into the fen mud and the students are holding a competition to see who can ‘get a snog off the Dean’.

The taint of money, the politics of gender and the colour of the SCR curtains: Hearts and Minds is a campus satire for the 21st century.

“A satisfying, plot-driven story that bubbles along entertainingly…”
The Daily Telegraph
  • “A satisfying, plot-driven story that bubbles along entertainingly, but the power of this novel lies in the portrait of Dr Martha Pearce, the college’s senior tutor. Her sense of self, her career aspirations and her role as wife and mother are all vibrantly painted and it is the passages that describe her anguish about her home life – her daughter’s depression in particular and the heartbreaking efforts she makes to keep their fragile relationship intact, that really make this novel breathe.” – The Daily Telegraph

    “A cleverly written and intricate novel that explores the complex relationships in the world of academia … a great novel” – Peterborough Evening Telegraph

    “Rosy Thornton, … a lecturer at Cambridge, draws on her experience… to fashion her second novel. Thornton’s detailed descriptions of the myriad boards and committees lend a real sense of authenticity to the novel.
    It is the conscientious Martha who forms the real heart of the book… Thornton’s description of her failing marriage is subtle and poignant. Martha’s teenage daughter, Lucia, …is deeply depressed and Thornton handles this with sensitivity, movingly portraying Lucia’s distress and Martha’s inability to reach her.
    …it is a gentle tale of good people trying to do their best which raises many a wry smile and, in the case of Lucia, possibly a few tears.” – The Glasgow Herald

    “It’s Cambridge, not Oxford, but a fun read for anyone who feels the two universities take themselves too seriously.” – The Oxford Times

    “Light-hearted yet plausible, Rosy Thornton’s second book has a real authentic sense of place” – Newmarket Journal

    “This book was a joy to discover. The author creates a warm vibrant picture of the closed world of Cambridge academia” – The Hunts Post

  • “Hearts and Minds is at once satirical and humane, deliciously reminiscent of David Lodge as written by Joanna Trollope. It’s a warm, witty and sharp-eyed look at what happens to real people and real families when they find themselves in an institution as endearingly, infuriatingly eccentric as a Cambridge college. Rosy Thornton’s picture of that world is funny and convincing, and she keeps the reader guessing and hoping right to the end.” – Emma Darwin

    “Funny, original and clever – I loved it.” – Penny Vincenzi

    Hearts and Minds is a sparkling, intelligent story about a women’s college which elects a man as its Master. The Cambridge college politics, the various narrative strands so skilfully woven in (there’s stuff about endowments, sexism, young love, juggling work and home and much more besides) all make it a very pleasurable book to read. The writer is a don herself, and her inside knowledge gives an added authenticity to the book. I loved it.” -Adèle Geras

  • “a drama in the Joanna Trollope mould. While it has both cosy and comedic elements, it is also a mature and serious novel primarily about juggling relationships… a very enjoyable novel” – Gaskella

    “Sometimes a novel can make you feel like a true insider in a way that few other mediums can, by making you feel you inhabit a place and time completely. Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton was one such novel for me. An enjoyable read” – This Delicious Solitude

    “No apologies for recommending another Rosy Thornton book. Gently poking fun at the idiosyncrasies of Oxbridge colleges, it is a crisp, witty and clever tale of strong women and unlikely solutions.” – book-worm.biz

    “Hearts and Minds has left the warmest feeling in my own heart, every page a pure pleasure. It’s a tale of St. Radegund’s a (fictional) women’s college at Cambridge, its newly appointed (male!) Head of House, its long suffering Senior Tutor, a diverse supporting cast of family, students, and faculty, and the trials and tribulations which arise when an “outsider” attempts to break new ground in academic traditions which have been practiced for nearly two centuries.
    Ms. Thornton could be a 21st century Barbara Pym, capturing every nuance of college life (as Pym did with village life) with insight, humor, and obvious affection. Her characters come to life instantly, and quickly begin to feel like friends.
    Hearts and Minds certainly lives up to its title, bringing the reader in touch with the hearts and minds of its characters in a way that illuminates their lives, their dilemmas and foibles, while making them so very identifiable and sympathetic. It’s a novel about academia, but also a novel about the delicate balancing acts of life. It’s the kind of novel you want all your friends to read (although I’m loath to loan my copy to anyone, as it’s too precious to risk losing!)
    I know it’s a novel I’ll return to again and again… just as you would wish to sit down and share a cup of tea with dear old friends.” – Bookstack

    “This was a book to be savoured: intelligently written, neat and cleverly thought out, peopled with well-rounded characters dealing with both personal and professional dilemmas.
    …the personal and political nature of academic life makes for a fascinating contemporary story. It has romance, wit, a keen sense of pertinent issues and is written very engagingly. I loved it and I recommend it highly.” – Cornflower

    “Hearts and Minds examines the inner workings of… university with its suitably lofty ideals and worrying financial concerns and scratches away at the sore spot where these two preoccupations come at odds. Despite this serious focus, this isn’t a heavy book, as Thornton’s writing is brisk and clear and she strides confidently through the novel’s various intersecting themes. There is a lightness about the novel….
    Family, influence, academics, political machinations, integrity, new love and weathered love…the book takes up each of these ideas and turns them over a few times in its vigorous movement through the hustle of St. Radegund’s calendar year.” – Incurable Logophilia

    “I think I’m past my reading slump, and I think I owe this largely to Rosy Thornton’s Hearts and Minds, which I read happily all weekend. I needed a book that is smart and well-written but also plot-driven and entertaining, and this one fits the bill nicely.
    Hearts and Minds is a thoroughly entertaining novel. I enjoyed the story and liked spending time with the characters, but another of the novel’s pleasures is reading about the college itself, with its traditions and oddities.” – Of Books and Bicycles

    “Hearts and Minds is proof positive that you should never judge a book by its cover…. A very entertaining, very funny, but above all very intelligent novel that is part campus-novel, and part coming of age tale. It also offers rare insight into the politics and mechanics of academic life at Oxbridge made all the more realistic when you know that Rosy Thornton herself is a real life Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
    It’s a great book. I recommend Hearts and Minds to all.” – Other Stories

    “I really like books that grab my attention from the start, have believable characters, a good story and are thought provoking. Hearts and Minds meets all these criteria. From the first page I became involved in the world of St Radegund’s College, Cambridge as Dr Martha Pearce, the Senior Tutor working against deadlines, wrestles with writing an article, has difficulty refocusing her eyes from the computer screen to look at her watch and is not relishing the prospect of confronting a delegation of students angry at the proposed rent increases. As I read further it was obvious that this is a book to be read slowly and relished.
    For one thing it is full of details about how the university college functions, how the staff and students inter-relate, and the idiosyncrasies and bureaucracy of academia. For another I didn’t want it to end, so I didn’t read through at breakneck speed in my usual way, but rationed myself and took it slowly. It may look from the book jacket that it is a light and fluffy love story…, but it is much more than that, posing moral dilemmas that are not limited to the academic world.
    There are echoes of C P Snow’s novels, that I read and enjoyed many years ago, particularly The Masters in the Strangers and Brothers series and I noticed in the acknowledgements that the book developed from a joke about Snow. This is an intelligent and witty novel which kept me greatly entertained and gave me food for thought. I do hope there will be more books from Dr Thornton.” – Ramblings of a Bookworm

    “I fell in love with the story, the setting and the little subplots. I decided… that this was a book to savour and so I treated myself to a few chapters a night rather than race through it and miss out on the subtleties of Thornton’s lovely rich writing style.
    Despite the somewhat “girlie” cover, this is not chick-lit, nor, as the title may suggest, is it a cheesy romantic novel. In fact, I’d argue that this is mature fiction for mature readers, male and female alike. At its most basic level Hearts and Minds explores the complicated balancing acts that people perform every day — Rycarte, looking after the college’s best interests without compromising its integrity; Pearce, juggling her academic career with a troubled home life — but adds a delicious layer of extra interest by setting it in a cloistered world where tradition does not mix with modernity.
    This is a great, rainy day novel brimming with intelligent, often witty, prose, the perfect kind of story to luxuriate in while the rest of the world goes about its busy ways. I very much enjoyed it.” – Reading Matters

    “Hearts and Minds is a witty, well-thought-out and excellently structured novel. A perfect glimpse not only into Oxbridge university life, but into the minds of humans doing the best they can in tricky situations.” – Stuck in a Book

    “Hearts and Minds a well-rounded novel that is enjoyable to read. It has been a long time since I have lived at a college, and that one American, but the students and their antics ring true. In fact, the whole novel feels eerily realistic. But that is part of its charm. The reader gets to be on the outside looking in at the craziness which is academia. And since it isn’t us who have to navigate the political minefield, we can sit back, relax, and laugh.” – So Many Books

    “Sometimes, you came across a book that is so accurately observed it makes you wince… Rosy Thornton’s new book ‘Hearts and Minds’ I picked up last night so as just to glance through the first chapter and then found I couldn’t put down. Set in a Cambridge College it was bound to appeal to me anyway but Thornton writes with such engaging wit that you very quickly get drawn in to what is actually an extremely accurate portrait of the type of political in-fighting that bedevils most Higher Education institutions.
    In ‘Hearts and Minds’ Thornton has written an extremely readable novel. If you’re not so personally involved that you have to put it to one-side because you can’t cope with the idea of MASNs on a Sunday afternoon, then you’ll probably read it in a sitting. But she has also written a novel that pinpoints a very real problem in the current academic world.” – Table Talk

    “I loved Rosy Thornton’s Hearts and Minds. It’s the story of St Radegund’s College, one of the last bastions of single-sex education in Cambridge and something between a refuge and a lair for a formidable and utterly authentic collection of women dons.
    What I loved most about this book is how incredibly accurate it is as a portrayal of Cambridge University from the college perspective. The way the college functions, the way the dons behave, and most of all, the crippling, workaholic atmosphere of the place are all brilliantly conveyed. It’s a very good story about the problems that beset an institute of higher learning when there’s no money, not always much compassion, and intellectual principles of reinforced tungsten.
    Rosy Thornton’s vivid and lively account of Cambridge life makes one feel, if not quite ready to take on the world, then fired up enough to enter the fray.” – Tales from the Reading Room

    “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… 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.
    If you like Margaret Forster you’ll enjoy Hearts and Minds. It has that same magic combination of a good story and food for thought.” – The Bookbag

    “I loved being in the world of ‘Hearts and Minds’ – it reminded me very much of a Victorian novel in its attention to detail and the rich atmosphere.
    ‘Hearts and Minds’ is a rich-textured, beautifully written and leisurely-paced novel… I especially relished the intricate structure of the novel, with its subtle echoes, parallels, counterpoints, nothing fragmented and everything under the writer’s control – it’s the kind of thing you don’t often see in modern fiction.
    This is an intelligent, gentle read – a touch of the rich canvas of the sprawling Victorian novels the author so loves… and a touch of Margaret Forster in her exploration of the mother/daughter relationship. A comedy in the old-fashioned sense of the word, it is a tale of wry observation.
    ‘Hearts and Minds’ is a big, leisurely, elegantly-written read with a fine attention to detail… It has all the good sides of Sunday night television drama: warm characters, small-scale incidents, atmospheric and cosy location.
    I do think ‘Hearts and Minds’ belongs in a certain tradition, not only of the Big Victorian Novel but that of 20th century fiction written by women such as Barbara Pym… Confident in its own nature, the novel is intelligently and unashamedly a Novel by a Woman Writer.” – Vulpes Libris

    “Smart, sharp, acerbic, witty and intelligent, Hearts and Minds is the second new novel by a huge new talent: Rosy Thornton!
    Hearts and Minds is a deeply moving, highly absorbing and wonderfully written tale imbued with plenty of charm, warmth, pathos, intelligence and delicious humour. Richly woven, beautifully told and impossible to put down, Rosy Thornton’s Hearts and Minds is an original and intelligent contemporary tale, brimming with lovely characters you will be sad to wave goodbye to at the end of the book, that will make you laugh, cry and think.” – Single Titles

    “I found this book perfectly charming. 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 Thornton (a Cambridge lecturer herself) manages to plunge the reader directly into the experience.
    The plot was intriguing, but the characters are definitely at the heart of this book. This was a perfect book to spend several hours with, curled up under a cosy blanket and with a nice mug of milky tea.” – A Striped Armchair

    “A clever, sophisticated tale about life at a women’s college in Cambridge.
    Thornton’s writing is lively and intelligent and her characters are well drawn. I especially loved the minutiae of life at Cambridge. Thornton moves her story forward at a good pace while at the same time providing just the perfect amount of engaging details.” – A Book a Week

    “A warm, witty and wise tale… Thornton shows a finely nuanced appreciation of the private inner tussles between altruism, self-interest and political principle in all of the players… But the great joy of this book for me was getting to know James Rycarte and Martha Pearce. They are the most absolutely believable characters. They’re so real you feel you could just hug them… I was very sorry to part company with them at the end – there’s a real sense that they are still out there, living and breathing and moving on with their lives, despite the fact that it’s several weeks since I turned the final page.” – Musings from a Muddy Island

    “I loved More Than Love Letters but I think this is a stronger novel, in every way, and I adored it… I thought the portrait of the mother-daughter relationship was brilliant… Hearts and Minds covers a number of challenging and thoughtful topics with a light, confident touch and plenty of humour, making it immensely readable. It has everything you could want: the always alluring academic setting, family drama, romance, …moral dilemmas, passionate yet illogical undergraduates, and many bicyclists. I could not recommend it more highly.” – – The Captive Reader

    “Despite the rather fluffy-looking cover, this is intelligent fiction… The book looks in a realistic way at some serious issues. The author skillfully brings out both sides of several controversial debates on topics which I had barely thought about before… I found ‘Hearts and Minds’ almost impossible to put down… and was pleased that the ending was tidily satisfying, leaving open an encouraging future for everyone. Definitely recommended.” – Sue’s Book Reviews


  1. Cornflower
    December 23, 2008 @ 5:11 pm

    As I predicted it would be when I read it, Hearts and Minds is firmly on my ‘books of the year’ list/post!


  2. abada carnaporto 2011
    August 10, 2010 @ 11:56 am

    Nice, I just finished reading Hearts and Minds and I must say, what a book!


  3. Virginia Wakely
    September 11, 2010 @ 11:34 am

    I am only part way through Tapestry of Love but have to tell you how much I love your style of writing. I really feel that I am there in France with Catherine and am experiencing sitting on the stone step in the sunshine, the unremitting rain, even the smells and sounds from the valley. Keep writing and I look forward to reading your other books when I finished my involvement in Catherine’s life!
    You have certainly succeeded in drawing my attention from my absolute love for the country of Italy as a subject of bedtime reading

    Thank you, Virginia


  4. Steph
    September 24, 2010 @ 8:12 am

    Do you know, not only your newest but all your books sound wonderful to me! I want to read them all!


  5. Minnie
    October 20, 2010 @ 5:13 am

    After reading all the interesting reviews from reliable sources, have succumbed to temptation: ‘Hearts & Minds’ is on its way!
    Just stopped by to say (re your latest novel) that I can well understand visiting a particular place & falling in love with it for good. How wonderful that you have been able to construct a tale to share from this form of inspiration.


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