Penelope Fitzgerald

What compels you to buy a novel? I bought Offshore on the day after it won the 1979 Booker Prize. This was partly in response to the dismissive BBC Book Programme about “this trouble-creating Booker Prize” in which Robert Robinson, himself an abysmal novelist, proposed to everyone on the panel, including Fitzgerald, that “the Booker judges had made the wrong choice” and “the best book didn’t win.” The novel was quiet and familiar; also flinty and powerful, with some of the same notes I later recognised in W.G. Sebald (who, like Fitzgerald, was to write about Southwold). It also reminded me of John Williams’ reissued Stoner. Like Williams, Fitzgerald has been there all along, right under our noses, yet she remains undervalued. (Another to suffer this temporary oblivion is the marvellous Wallace Stegner). Perhaps Hermione Lee’s biography will draw Fitzgerald back into circulation. I particularly like her explanation of fiction. “I would say it started as soon as people realised that it was dark as night – that it was dark outside. And they felt that they would like a story told them And that’s what novels are for.”

 

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