I have an online reading friend across the pond and south a bit who is sending eager messages saying she has just "got" Penelope Fitzgerald and is busy buying the entire oeuvre, so this is a moment of great rejoicing because not everyone gets Penelope Fitzgerald. Also a self-indulgent excuse to stroke my treasured first editions, some signed, and I don't go to these extremes for many writers.
I witter on about her endlessly and tirelessly to all and sundry and t'will ever be so, but people often come back to me and say "so what was that all about then?" I used to shrug and so "oh well never mind" because it's actually quite difficult to define, but that's not good enough now I'm a book blogger so I'll have to do better.
I found my way into Penelope Fitzgerald's writing via The Bookshop. It must have been one of those days when the reading planets were aligned in my favour but I emerged after finishing the book in one sitting knowing that I had discovered a truly great writer.
It was a strange feeling.
I may have cracked it by happenstance and just by starting with exactly the right book and I'm beginning to think there is a method to this with many writers.Look at my lifetime of issues with Beryl? Then suddenly along comes Master Georgie and perhaps I've finally unlocked the Bainbridge enigma.
It's difficult to encapsulate what it is Penelope Fitzgerald does so well and that I admire so much, but baptizing a new convert is always a good moment to reflect.
It's clearly many things but in amongst them I think it's all about what isn't said.Thrifty and sparing with her words, nothing to excess and I realize now that this is a real gift of respect to her reader.Sufficient offered for the reader who is tuned into the right frequency to pick up everything left unsaid and fill in the gaps for themselves.
So you'd think being such a fanatic I'd read everything she's ever written wouldn't you?
Well not quite, I've rationed and saved two knowing that what we have is all there is and nothing can quite replace that elation of a first read of a Penelope Fitzgerald book.With a new and keen convert nipping at my heels to talk about the books I could feel myself weakening by the day, The Blue Flower or Innocence?
I settled on The Blue Flower and have been transported back into that perfect literary world that only Penelope Fitzgerald can create.I read it slowly (never rush a Penelope) in two languorously self-indulgent sittings.More about this one soon.
I have on hand a book by Professor Peter Wolfe Understanding Penelope Fitzgerald and it's a godsend for anyone wanting to delve a little deeper into the work of a writer who "has a great gift for imagining herself in other people's shoes without patronizing them" and whose "art rests on a bedrock of knowledge as firm as it is wide".
Pre-requisite for me before any delving was to have read all the books once for the sheer scale and enjoyment of a writer of great but unassuming intellect.Now I plan to start back at the beginning and follow the progression and development in Penelope Fitzgerald's writing as well as plumbing the hidden depths.
I'll share my new understanding on here as I go, first up The Golden Child and, with the return of the Tutankhamun exhibition to London later this year, what could be more appropriate.
PS I've had a lovely e mail off-blog reminding me about this great interview on Amazon by Kerry Fried with Penelope Fitzgerald. It was the first piece I found when I had put The Bookshop down and started to look up anything about this amazing writer and it was reading this interview that made me realise I had to read more.
Thanks Kerry you did me a great favour that day!