The Beginning of Spring – Penelope Fitzgerald

The Beginning of Spring

I have read two books now by Penelope Fitzgerald. This and The Blue Flower. I’m in two minds as to how I feel about her writing but am leaning towards liking it. Both these stories are beautifully written with a direct and humourous style. They are slice of life stories, not a lot happens plot wise, although the events are important to the characters.

The beginning of Spring takes place in Moscow in 1913. Frank Reid owns a printing press, handed down by his father who had emigrated from England in the 1870’s. At the beginning of the story Frank’s wife Nellie has unexpectedly left and returned to England. Frank is left to look after their three children. He hires a governess Lisa Ivanova and carries on the full time job of running his press and managing his employees.

Set just before WWI, and the political rumbings of the eventual revolution, Penelope Fitzgerald sets the scene of an ex-pat/Russian family well. Because although Frank has spent the majority of his life in Russia, he is still considered British, an outsider. The interactions between the characters seem ordinary but the simplicity and humour of Frank and his eldest daughter Dolly and of Lisa make it enjoyable reading. I enjoyed how mention of the historical figures of the day; Tolstoy, Rasputin and Stravinsky were casually weaved into the story.

The challenge for me is that I don’t feel much when I’m reading this story. There is an objective interest but I don’t feel engaged by the characters. For this reason I’m suprised that I liked it but I did.

I’m fascinated by Penelope Fitzgerald’s history. She started writing in her sixties and from what I have read, the settings for her stories are all different. Some based on her own experiences, others like the two I have read (The Blue Flower is set in 18th century Germany), are not.

The cover here is different from the one I read but I like it much better!

Read for the Reading Through the Seasons challenge

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7 responses to “The Beginning of Spring – Penelope Fitzgerald

  1. I must read some Penelope Fitzgerald. I’ve read a few reviews of The Blue Flower, but I didn’t know about this novel. One to add to the tbr list!

  2. I was recently asked if I had read any Penelope Fitzgerald, and I hadn’t even heard of her. Thank you for this review, which has confirmed that I definitely should read some.

    I wonder if the less than usually engaging characters made the story feel more atmospheric? I never used to like ‘slice of life’ type stories, but these days I crave the calm escapism they can offer!

  3. Nicola – ah yes, the evergrowing tbr list – I can so relate! Enjoy when you eventually get to try her.

    Sarah – I hadn’t heard of Penelope Fitzgerald either until I saw her on the Guardian 1000 novels to read list. Good point about the calmness of slice of life stories – it does have an underlying tone of acceptance and calm -my own week was anything but so perhaps it was perfect timing!

  4. Penelope Fitzgerald is one of those authors I mean to read but never quite get to. You may just have inspired me to pick up one of her books soon though!

  5. Fleur – Oh good – I can’t wait to see what you think. I’m guessing you will like her 0:)

  6. Great post-I have read four of her novels-I like her life story also-I think her father was an editor of Punch-I like her work but I would not say I love it-

    • Mel – Thank you. I think I’m going to be the same. Liking but not loving her work. There is something though that attracts me and I guess you too if you have read four of her novels. I actually saw a book of her letters in the library today and was tempted – but I left them there for now 0:)

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