With the death of Penelope Fitzgerald this year, the literary world lost one of its finest, most original, and most beloved authors. Fitzgerald began her writing career at age sixty and wrote eight remarkable novels in rapid succession over the next twenty years. Completed just before her death, THE MEANS OF ESCAPE is Fitzgerald's first new book since the best-selling THE BLUE FLOWER. Never before have her short stories been collected in book form, and none of them has ever appeared in the United States.
THE MEANS OF ESCAPE showcases this incomparable author at her most intelligent, her funniest, her best. Like her novels, these brilliant stories are miniature studies of the endless absurdity of human behavior. Concise, comic, biting, and mischievous, they are vintage Fitzgerald. Roaming the globe and the ages, the stories travel from England to France to New Zealand and from today to the seventeenth century. Uniting them is a universal theme: the shifting balance between those who are in positions of power--by wealth, status, or class--and those who, deceptively, are not. THE MEANS OF ESCAPE memorializes a life and a writer guided by a generous but unwavering moral gaze.
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.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.