Penelope Fitzgerald is the most British name ever, and in ways, she’s the most British writer ever. She started publishing when she was about 60 and then went on to publish 9 novels after that. She won the Booker Prize in 1978 for her novel Offshore, which is mostly just ok. I read her novel, The Bookshop, about a woman opening up a bookshop in a small coastal town in 1959. The owner then overruns the town with copies of Lolita. It’s great.
This novel is just ok. This is a semi-autobiographical account of a young radio engineer whiz who joins the BBC radio dept during WWII and finds herself in a world of absurdity. The premise is good and the writing is generally sharp and often funny. But this novel is 130 pages and it feels like it. What I mean by that is that generally if you’re going to have a tiny little novel the story is often direct, sharp, or rich, or something else but this. Instead, what we get is a novel in which 250 pages of story is not exactly told in 130 pages. It’s under-served by its length throughout. Again, the writing is quality and the farcical elements are funny and interesting, but then we’re done. In many ways, it feels like a good novel to make into a movie. It would be quaint and short. But instead this feels like the novelization of a movie that was based on a more complete novel.
Emily Mortimer is going to be in a a movie version of The Bookshop and someone will be in a movie version of this novel soon after. I think you should just read and then see that one instead.
Here you go:
“Annie Asra was the kind of girl whom people give a job, even when they didn’t originally intend to. Her name sounded foreign, but wasn’t. She came from Birmingham.”
“It was a curious existence for a child. Winter was the height of the piano-tuning season, and she became inured at an early age to extreme temperatures.”