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The Beginning of Spring


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About the Author

Penelope Fitzgerald 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. A superb biographer and critic, she was also the author of lives of the artist Edward Burne-Jones, the poet Charlotte Mew and The Knox Brothers, a study of her remarkable family. She died in April 2000.


Booker Prize-winner Fitzgerald ( Offshore ; Innocence ) reveals here the depth of a distinct and imaginative talent to amuse. Set in Moscow in the spring of 1913, the story concerns an English household that has fallen apart with the unexpected flight of Nellie Reid, a good and proper wife and heretofore devoted mother of three young children. (Fitzgerald is especially good at very droll children.) Nellie's husband, Frank, must carry on with his family and printing business while holding out hope for her return. A mysterious young woman from the countryside--she may be a dryad--is engaged to care for the children, and the plot, such as it is, takes many unexpected turns. But one doesn't read Fitzgerald for plot structure so much as for her sheer powers of invention: her novel raises more questions than it means to answer. Rich in subtle characterizations, wit and wonderfully textured prose, Fitzgerald's seventh novel succeeds in evoking the very essence of life one long-ago spring at 22 Lipka Street. (Apr.)

'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 'Penelope Fitzgerald writes discreet, brief, perfect tales... Jane Austen's nearest heir.' A.S. BYATT '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.' Evening Standard

Set in Moscow in 1913, this tale chronicles several months in the life of Frank Reid, who is mysteriously deserted by his wife and must engage the simple peasant girl Lisa Ivanova to care for his three small children. Reid plods along in a remarkably mundane existence, relating to everyone with an amazing, unflagging apathy. Even an armed student radical who breaks into his shop and shoots at him cannot stir him to action. Lisa, to her credit, manages to stir him briefly to passion. The sole bright spot in this otherwise bleak, boring saga is Reid's hilariously precocious daughter, Dolly, whose abrupt, insightful comments are priceless. In this story, resolved anticlimactically in the last line of the text, there is very little spring, but a lot of grim, eternal winter.-- Ronald L. Coombs, SUNY Health Science Ctr. at Brooklyn Lib.

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