Penelope Fitzgerald said: "I do leave a lot out and trust the reader really to be able to understand it. My books are about twice the length when they're first finished, but I cut all of it out. It's just an insult to explain everything."
There are just eight stories in Penelope Fitzgerald's last book "The means Of Escape" but they are as invigorating and surprising as the novels. There is "The Axe", a tale of office life, redundancy and "a visitant which should not be walking but buried in the earth". The sense of the uncanny is also present in "Desideratus", where a young 17th-century boy loses a keepsake and then finds it in the hand of a cold-handed boy in the dark upper floors of a house called Watching. Fitzgerald's characters are also painfully, peculiarly real. Their foibles and eccentricities are described with a crisp truthfulness. The title story tells of a woman's encounter with a masked convict in a church. Alice smuggles him food, and the convict promises: "wait and trust, give me time, and I will send for you". He stows away, ironically, on a ship named Constancy, with Alice's housekeeper Mrs. Watson whose "motives for doing what she did--which taking into her account her intense affection for Alice, must have been complex enough--were never set down, and can only be guessed at".
Fitzgerald's novels are short; carefully researched details are used sparingly to create atmosphere and a historical context in her later fiction, whilst her earlier work drew on situations from her own life. But all her work has a fierce moral perspective, which isn't always easy to accept. Reading her fiction is like skating across a cool, elegant surface, and suddenly being plunged into icy, mysterious depths. Her prose style may be cunningly simple, but her meaning is sometimes very enigmatic. --Eithne Farry
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘Of all the novelists in English in the last quarter-century, she has the most inarguable claim on greatness. This is a small book, probably not above 25,000 words, but a remarkably rich one. It sets the seal on a career we, as readers, can only count ourselves lucky to have lived through.’ Philip Hensher, Spectator
‘So readable, so sharply tender, at the top of her form.’ Adam Mars-Jones, Observer
‘As succinct, droll and individual as Fitzgerald has, over the years, given us every right to expect.’ Sunday Times
‘Luminous, dark, unflinching.’ Hermione Lee, TLS
‘Eight masterpieces, polished and perfect, and with such mesmerising characters that each story is equal to any novel.’ Polly Samson, Independent ‘Books of the Year’