The Means of EscapePaperback
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- Publisher: Flamingo
- Format: Paperback | 176 pages
- Dimensions: 149mm x 214mm x 19mm | 141g
- Publication date: 15 October 2001
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 0007105010
- ISBN 13: 9780007105014
- Sales rank: 173,212
A collection of Penelope Fitzgerald's short stories. Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most highly-regarded writers on the English literary scene. Apart from Iris Murdoch, no other writer has been shortlisted so many times for the Booker. Her last novel, 'The Blue Flower', was the book of its year, garnering extraordinary acclaim in Britain, America and Europe. This superb collection of stories, originally published in anthologies and newspapers, shows Penelope Fitzgerald at her very best. From the tale of a young boy in 17-century England who loses a precious keepsake and finds it frozen in a puddle of ice, to that of a group of buffoonish amateur Victorian painters on a trip to Brittany, these stories are characteristically wide ranging, enigmatic and very funny. They are each miniature studies of the endless absurdity of human behaviour.
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Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. Three of her novels, The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels have been 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 to introduce her to a wider international readership. She died in April 2000, at the age of eighty-three.
'Of all the novelists in English in the last quarter-century, she has the most inarguable claim on greatness. This is a small book, probably not above 25,000 words, but a remarkably rich one. It sets the seal on a career we, as readers, can only count ourselves lucky to have lived through.' Philip Hensher, Spectator 'So readable, so sharply tender, at the top of her form.' Adam Mars-Jones, Observer 'As succinct, droll and individual as Fitzgerald has, over the years, given us every right to expect.' Sunday Times 'Luminous, dark, unflinching.' Hermione Lee, TLS 'Eight masterpieces, polished and perfect, and with such mesmerising characters that each story is equal to any novel.' Polly Samson, Independent 'Books of the Year'
Fitzgerald, three times shortlisted and Booker prize winner, and winner of America's National Book Critics Circle Award, wrote spare, quizzical novels concerned with human folly and indescretion, about which she was always generous. The meek and the dispossessed, what she referred to once as life's 'natural victims', were what most attracted her. She was also extremely funny, although her wit was so subtle that it could easily be overlooked. Indeed, her style was self-effacing so that she did not always gain the notice she deserved. This collection of short stories will delight Fitzgerald fans and confirm her reputation. It covers an extraordinary range of human experience, including the supernatural (the model is Henry rather than M R James). The title story concerns the daughter of a rector who meets a convict in a church and abets his escape. An affection springs up between them but nothing comes of it because the convict is deflected at the eleventh hour by sexual temptation, the irony being that it is the sexual response he has awakened in the girl which has made this means of escape possible. In one weird story a boy's lost medal is found on the ghost of a person - in another, the job of a longstanding employee is 'axed' with gruesome consequences. Eccentric artistic effort makes up a theme: a group of indifferently talented artists, or a reclusive conductor of Mahler who has taken refuge on a remote island. Fitzgerald's fascination with the absurd is everywhere apparent, though it is the absurd of Chekhov rather than Kafka - an awareness of the human inability to transcend its own limitation and the capacity to laugh with rather than at this. Indeed, it is Chekhov, finally, one seeks comparison with in its appealing and inimitable collection. Reviewed by SALLEY VICKERS Editor's note: Salley Vickers is the author of Miss Garnet's Angel published by HarperCollins. (Kirkus UK)