The Means of Escape

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It is never a good idea to open with a declaration of love. Never. But, wow, Penelope Fitzgerald. She so good… I go goo-goo eyes reading her.

I first heard of her in a Julian Barnes collection of essays about writers called Through the Window. She sounded very cool.

She didn’t start writing till she was 63 (very appealing to someone starting writing later in life), and seemed quite the eccentric character given his anecdote about being on a writers’ panel and riding the Tube with her.

And she wasn’t short of ideas or limited in scope. All the novels he talked about were interesting and diverse, ranging across the world and time. She won the Booker Prize in 1979 for Offshore, and The Blue Flower, set in 18th century Prussia, was ‘the most-loved novel of 1995’. I so wanted to read it.

But, somehow, she was absent from my local library. How could this be? She seemed great. Indeed, The Times had her in the top 50 British novelists since 1945 and The Observer placed The Blue Flower in the top 10 historical novels of all time.

There was, however, her posthumous collection of short stories The Means of Escape available. I hadn’t read a collection of short stories in quite a number of years (a bit shameful, but I’m clearly not alone given the poor sales of collections).

But I wanted a taste.

And, wow.

It’s such a lovely, slim object crafted with care (the books and the stories). Like her novels, they take place all over the world (including New Zealand!) and go back as far as the 1600s.

The start of the story set in ye olde New Zealand.

The start of the story set in ye olde New Zealand.

I must say that I finished most of the stories going ‘what happened just then?’ but it wasn’t due to obscurity…she’s just so good she lulls you into a complacency where the real story can slip by. I read several stories more than once.

I want this book. I want to hold it and look at it, to re-engage and delve deeper into her world. I want to read these stories again and again.

To underscore how smitten I am, I read a couple of Julian Barnes short stories after I finished Fitzgerald’s collection and boy were they unsatisfying, which is significant because I’m a HUGE fan of his novels and essays.

So…what to do? TradeMe has the books new (but The Means of Escape ships from Oz). Amazon has them much cheaper, but it seems nuts getting them from across the Pacific.

Sigh.

It’s hard to be patient when you’re in love. But a hasty heart is always disappointed.

If I get through the day without buying these two books I’ll be surprised.

This love will not wait.

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