Highly evocative of time and place
April 2010 Guest Editor Katharine McMahon on Penelope Fitzgerald...
Highly evocative of time and place this wonderful novel set in the early 20th century is funny, touching and curious. A real treasure of a novel.
I was introduced to this author just as I began to be published, and I love her wit, and her quirky approach to plot. The Beginning of Spring is a delicious novel, and it's as if the entire book is pitched towards the very last few lines. This reads like a small, perfectly formed, Russian novel, but amazingly is written by a very English author.
A.S. Byatt wrote once that she could make a good case for Penelope Fitzgerald as the best 20th century novelist in the English language in the post-war period. I don’t tend to think in such terms but … I get it. Fitzgerald — especially, but not only, her last four books — is an absolute favourite of mine, and through rereads, too. (Rereading can be a joy, and dangerous sometimes, too.) She started very late in life as a novelist, which will be encouraging for some.
Her best book is generally — and rightly, I think — considered to be The Blue Flower, but my favourite, for the humour, tenderness, unexpectedly wry delights it offers, is her novel set 1913 in Russia, The Beginning of Spring. It has, for a protagonist, a beleaguered English printing shop owner in a wonderfully evoked Moscow. His wife has just left him and their three small children, without warning, to return to England. The year is significant: we are on the eve, but not yet the immediate arrival, of the Revolution, and the Great War. There is, among other joys here, a scene in a birch wood at night that is simply unforgettable, because of how mysterious it is. Indeed, the drowsy child allowed to come into the forest is told that ‘she'll understand in time what she's seen.’ She doesn’t, then, nor do we, entirely. It haunts in good part because of that, a small miracle of writing.
A "Piece of Passion" from the publisher...
Perhaps Penelope Fitzgerald’s finest novel, The Beginning of Spring is the story of Frank Reid, an ex-pat Englishman struggling to run his printing firm and keep his family together in turn-of-the-century Moscow. Written in Fitzgerald’s beautifully light, careful and evocative style and packed with her perfectly observed portraits of human nature (particularly of Frank’s young, but precociously intelligent, children), it is a wonderfully touching novel, about the confusions that life can throw at any of us.
Penelope Fitzgerald's Booker Prize-shortlisted novel about a troubled printworks in Moscow. Frank Reid had been born and brought up in Moscow. His father had emigrated there in the 1870s and started a print-works which, by 1913, had shrunk from what it was when Frank inherited it. In that same year, to add to his troubles, Frank's wife Nellie caught the train back home to England, without explanation. How is a reasonable man like Frank to cope? How should he keep his house running? Should he consult the Anglican chaplain's wife? Should he listen to the Tolstoyan advice of his chief book-keeper? How do people live together, and what happens when, sometimes, they don't?
|Publication date:||27th April 1989|
|Publisher:||Flamingo an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers|
|Primary Genre||Family Drama|
'For the life of me I can't decide how properly to respond to this book. Whether it contains a latent moral or allegorical message, or whether it is simply a tour de force of craft and imagination I have not the faintest idea. I only know that it is one of the most skilful and utterly fascinating novels I have read for years. I cannot imagine any kind of reader who would not get a thrill from this gloriously peculiar book.'
Jan Morris, Independent
'Penelope Fitzgerald has produced a real Russian comedy, at once crafty and scatty. She has mastered a city, a landscape and a vanished time. She has written something remarkable, part novel, part evocation, and done so in prose that never puts a foot wrong. She is so unostentatious a writer that she needs to be read several times. What is impressive is the calm confidence behind the apparent simplicity of utterance. The Beginning of Spring is her best novel to date.'
Anita Brookner, Spectator
'There are twenty perfectly competent novelists at work in Britain today, but only a handful producing what one could plausibly call works of literature. Of this handful, Penelope Fitzgerald possesses what one can call the purest imagination.
‘The story spans a few weeks, yet it evokes a whole life. Moscow is seen and smelt. In splendid vignettes, Penelope FItzgerald conveys the complexity of it denizens, their strangeness and charm. This is a marvellous, intelligent and beautifully crafted book’ Daily Telegraph
Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. She was the author of nine novels, three of which – The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels – were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She won the prize in 1979 for Offshore. Her last novel, The Blue Flower, was the most admired novel of 1995, chosen no fewer than nineteen times in the press as the 'Book of the Year'. It won America's National Book Critics' Circle Award, and this helped introduce her to a wider international readership.A superb biographer and critic, ...More About Penelope Fitzgerald