The Means of Escape

Penelope Fitzgerald, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $18 (128p) ISBN 978-0-618-07994-0
When a brilliant writer like Fitzgerald births her first work at age 60, her death at age 83 earlier this year seems sadly premature. This posthumous volume of eight short stories, none of them previously published here, is thus a signal event. Strange, whimsical, sometimes gothic or bizarre, these tales demonstrate Fitzgerald's cool and civilized wit and the merciless eye she casts on worldly pretensions. Many of the protagonists are eccentric, and in every story, something is askew: an individual is at odds with the everyday world. With settings ranging from England, Scotland and France to New Zealand and old Istanbul, and in historical period from the mid-19th century to the present day, each ends with a surprising twist. A story about the perseverance of rigid class values, ""The Prescription,"" is a cautionary tale about a man of entrenched tradition who despises the outstanding individual achievement of someone of a ""lower order."" In several other tales, however, a self-satisfied character is undone by someone who appears powerless but manages to triumph. The title story, in which Fitzgerald's spare description blossoms in the mind's eye to create vivid scenes capturing the social milieu of 1852 Hobart, Tasmania, deals with a minister's virgin daughter, an escaped convict and an inscrutable servant who turns the tables. In most stories, the respectable social classesDupper and middleDare cold, ""just"" and supercilious. The poor are clever, resourceful and doomed to suffer. Crisp, with the economical suggestiveness of poetry, these stories will be treasured by Fitzgerald's readersDwho will, however, mourn the lack of information about their chronology. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/16/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-0-00-710501-4
Paperback - 978-0-7862-3342-7
Hardcover - 128 pages - 978-0-7540-4513-7
Hardcover - 120 pages - 978-0-7540-4514-4
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-0-618-15450-0
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-618-08801-0
Hardcover - 117 pages - 978-0-618-10455-0
Open Ebook - 128 pages - 978-0-544-22811-5
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