Writer: Penelope Fitzgerald
Publishing House: Fourth Estate
Date of Publication: March 28th 2013 (first published 1979)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’I can’t do the things that women can’t do,’ she said. ‘I can’t turn over The Times so that the pages lie flat, I can’t fold up a map in the right creases, I can’t draw corks, I can’t drive in nails straight, I can’t go into a bar and order a drink without wondering what everyone’s thinking about it, and I can’t strike matches towards myself. I’m well educated and I’ve got two children and I can manage pretty well, there’s a number of much more essential things that I know how to do, but I can’t do those ones, and when they come up I feel like weeping myself sick.’’
A tender tale of a squad of ‘’eccentrics’’ who have refused to conform to society’s notions of ‘’residence’’ and ‘’family’’. Fitzgerald poignantly narrates the relationships between characters that jump right off the page, their marital woes, the fear over what tomorrow may bring, and the unavoidable uncertainty that comes with the decision to live outside the ordinary. Without judgement but tenderness, without dramatic rants but soft sadness, Penelope Fitzgerald ushers us into a world that changes.
‘’The lights dazzled, but on the broad face of the water there were innumerable V-shaped eddies, showing the exact position of whatever the river had not been able to hide. If the old Thames trades had still persisted, if boatmen had still made a living from taking the coins from the pockets of the drowned, then this was the hour for them to watch. Far above, masses of autumn clouds passed through the transparent violet sky.’’
From mudlarking to gender roles and expectations, sexuality, loyalty, obligations, decorum and enstrangement, Fitzgerald’s elegant satire and acute observations elevate what may appear as a ‘’simple’’ story to a bittersweet account of individuals being ostracised, smothered even, by social rules and duty.
‘’All distances are the same to those who don’t meet.’’