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Have You Read…Penelope Fitzgerald?

British author Penelope Fitzgerald penned her first book at age 58, after a career as a teacher, bookseller, and mother. The winner of England’s prestigious Booker Prize and the first non-American to win the National Book Critics Circle Award, she is known for a spare writing style applied to intricate plots and deft characterizations. Though her novels rarely exceed 200 pages, they are as satisfying as a longer yarn because of their attention to detail, distinct settings, and the complex moral situations her characters confront. Many of her novels were based very loosely on her own life experiences. Fitzgerald died in 2000, at the age of 83. If you’re interested in trying one of her novels, we recommend one of these:

  • The Blue Flower
    Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. In eighteenth-century Germany, the impetuous student of philosophy who will later gain fame as the Romantic poet Novalis seeks his father’s permission to wed his true philosophy — a plain, simple child named Sophie. The attachment shocks his family and friends. This brilliant young man, betrothed to a twelve-year-old dullard! How can it be? -Publisher Description
  • Offshore
    Winner of the Booker Prize. On the Battersea Reach of the Thames, a mixed bag of eccentrics live in houseboats. Belonging to neither land nor sea, they belong to one another. There is Maurice, a homosexual prostitute; Richard, a buttoned-up ex-navy man; but most of all there’s Nenna, the struggling mother of two wild little girls. How each of their lives complicates the others is the stuff of this perfect little novel. -Publisher Description
  • The Bookshop
    In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop – the only bookshop – in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors’ lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one. -Publisher Description
  • Human Voices
    When British listeners tuned in to the BBC’s Nine O’Clock News in the middle of 1940, they had no idea what human dramas-and follies-were unfolding behind the scenes. Targeted by enemy bombers, the BBC had turned its concert hall into a dormitory for both sexes, and personal chaos rivaled the political. The tense relationship between two departmental directors is at the center of Human Voices, as is Annie, a sixteen-year-old assistant who falls hopelessly in love with the monstrously selfish one. Reading this intimate glimpse behind the scenes of the BBC in its heyday, “one is left with the sensation,” William Boyd wrote in London Magazine, “that this is what is was really like.” -Publisher Description

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