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4.6 out of 5 stars23
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on 14 March 2008
Penelope Fitzgerald gives a salutary lesson in how to write a novel: concise but never superficial, intelligent but not condescending, moving but not cloying, witty but not smug. It takes a writer of the highest quality (Iris Murdoch, A S Byatt) to succeed with a historical novel and this book is a success. Set in the musty, cloistered world of Edwardian academia Gate of the Angels addresses fundamental issues such as the class divide, religious doubt in the face of scientific advancement, and women's role in society, as well as specifically contemporary issues such as universal suffrage. That the author achieves this without the grating pomposity of so many English novelists who write in the same milieu is most satisfying.
Fred Fairly, a physics lecturer, is ensconced in a tiny Cambridge college in which women are not admitted and where the academics must remain unmarried and, by inference, celibate. But when Fred is involved in a mundane accident he falls in love with the other victim, a lonely and isolated young nurse who has made a well-meaning but unfortunate error of judgement in her life. Their lives are told in two separate stories which gradually merge. The authenticity is such that the reader is transported into the Edwardian world without the aid of clichéd signposts or forced language. Always absorbing, it is a love story delivered with the utmost facility in elegant and precise language, and with real but unsentimental emotion. My copy came with the somewhat disturbing claim: `Brought to you by Woman's Journal', but don't let that put you off.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 13 April 2014
“… the strangely tall and narrow gate, as old as the college itself, in the south-west wall.”

This is a wonderful, exquisite book which gets inside your soul and takes you on a delightful journey. In 1912, Fred Fairly, a junior fellow at the College of St Angelicus at Cambridge University has come to the conclusion that science will provide all the answers that humankind could want. His father, a vicar takes Fred’s revelation calmly and advises Fred to find the answers he needs. When Fred is involved in a bicycle accident along with a young lady by the name of Daisy, Fred finds himself questioning quite what is important in life.

There is a lot to take in from this relatively short book, at just over 200 pages. Not one word the author has written is wasted; there is pathos, humour, wit, sorrow, and around it all the revolutions of lives in the last blissful and naïve years in the early twentieth century. Just a joy to read, this book offers insights into us all.
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on 2 January 2010
Beautifully written, Penelope Fitzgerald's precise, taut prose tells a gentle story of two ordinary people who meet by chance in 1912 Cambridge. He is a fellow at a college of the University, the son of a country rector. She is a girl from a poor background, with nothing and no one in the world but her own determination and resourcefulness to guide her through life.

There is not a word superfluous to the text. The author's use of language is surprising at times, but always deliberate. The story is compelling and the characters real and likeable. I am always sorry to reach the end of a Penelope Fitzgerald novel or short story, knowing that there is a finite supply of them left for me to read!
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on 17 January 2014
This a charming story of love at first sight, set in Cambridge in 1912. Fred and Daisy meet as the result of a bicycling accident. It happens on the outskirts of town when a horse and cart suddenly career out of a farm entrance and scatter three cyclists: Fred, Daisy (who had never met before) and a third party (known to Daisy)who was uninjured. Fred and Daisy are taken by the farmer's son to a nearby house where they are put to bed, more or less unconscious, by the kindly owners. When they wake up Fred at once decides that Daisy is the girl for him.

Fred is a physicist and Fellow of a College, St Angelicus, a strictly male establishment (like the Monastery at Mount Athos in Greece). Daisy comes from a poor background, a trainee nurse from Blackfriars Hospital in London, from which she has recently been unfairly dismissed, and has come to Cambridge looking for work in a local Hospital.

The story revolves around this mundane and somewhat mysterious event. Fred, who has come off worst is taken to a cottage hospital. Unfortunately Daisy has disappeared by the time he is up and about.

However there is much, much more to the story. It deals with the inevitable conflict between science and religious faith, democracy and universal suffrage and women's rights; and not least the absurd restrictions of life without women in St. Angelicus. (Nowhere however is there any hint of the impending European catastrophe 1914-18.)

In the end however Fred does catch up with Daisy, but only by chance! A truly 5* read.
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on 11 December 2000
The Gate of Angels was written by Penelope Fitzgerald. The prize-winning novel is about physicist Fred Fairly and nurse Daisy Saunders. It presents a myriad of intriguing characters and side stories. The novel, set in England in the year 1912, is essentially a love story between Daisy and Fred. Fred works at the College of St. Angelicus. He meets Daisy through a bike accident. He falls in love with her right away, and then pursues her. Fred undergoes trials and tribulations in trying to get Daisy to marry him. Unfortunately for him, he never does before the novel ends.
What separates this book from others with a similar theme is the way Fitzgerald's novel diverges into two separate stories, and then comes together at the end. It is a biography of both Fred and Daisy, but also a love story.
However, this format also made it confusing for me to read at times. The chapters constantly switch from the present to the past, and vice versa. I needed to go back, after reading the book, and actually put the events in chronological order for everything to make sense. This format is unlike any other novel I have ever read. Once everything made sense to me, I realized just how deep this book really is. It is complex, and presents basic dilemmas. Overall, it is well-deserving of the Booker Prize it won.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 October 2009
A short (167pp) novella, astounding in its emotional intelligence, The Gate of Angels is completely captivating and delightful. It concerns one Fred Farley, a Junior Fellow in Science at a small, eccentric Cambridge College, known as Angels, who is involved in an accident when a horse and cart blunders into the road from a farm gateway and upsets a group of cyclists. Also in the group is Daisy Saunders with whom young Fred falls instantly and irrevocably in love. Daisy's background may be less than salubrious and she may be what another college fellow calls "not of the marriageable class", but Fred is oblivious to such irrelevances.

This wonderful small book is something of an anachronism. Set in 1901, it brings to light any number of historical delights and deprivations, including hospital regimes, women's suffrage, the politics of class, and, transcending all other considerations, the warm, witty talents and brilliance of its writer. This is my first Penelope Fitzgerald book. It won't be my last.
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on 14 January 2012
This was chosen for this month's read in the book club I'm in. I'd never read any of PF's books. It is set in 1912. Initially I thought it was a bit dry but then as the plot developed one could see it was meant to be in describing the strange and archaic rituals and habits of a minor academic college in Cambridge.
PF is such an acute observer and so bitter-sweet in her comic observations. She depicts a world driven by hypocracy and social niceties where if you were poor and especially female ones existence could be stifling.
Being poor but gentile, like our hero Fred, who has lost his faith, seems to predict a life ahead of empty restraint. So when he meets Daisy, our other main character, referred to at one point as a ministering angel, he is bowled over not only by her beauty but her love of life.
PF's succinct and understated language was so wry that I found myself smiling frequently. Definitely a really good read!!
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on 2 March 2014
Penelope Fitzgerald writes like no other writer. On the surface her books are light, at times feeling almost inconsequential, but always there is something thoughtful and thought-provoking a few layers down. This novel about a fictional Cambridge college before the First World War shows off all her skills. It is at once funny, intriguing and challenging. Penelope Fitzgerald was undoubtedly one of the best writers in English of the twentieth century.
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on 8 December 2000
The Gate of Angels was written by Penelope Fitzgerald. The prize-winning novel is about physicist Fred Fairly and nurse Daisy Saunders. It presents a myriad of intriguing characters and side stories. The novel, set in England, is essentially a love story between Daisy and Fred. However, what separates this book from others with a similar theme is the way Fitzgerald's novel diverges into two separate stories, and then comes together at the end. It is a biography of both Fred and Daisy, but also a love story.
However, this format also made it confusing for me to read at times. The chapters constantly switch from the present to the past, and vice versa. I needed to go back, after reading the book, and actually put the events in chronological order for everything to make sense. This format is unlike any other novel I have ever read. Once everything made sense to me, I realized just how deep this book really is. It is complex, and presents basic dilemmas. Overall, it is well-deserving of the Booker Prize it won.
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on 31 October 2014
This is a simply marvellous novel. Anyone interested in the state of Britain in 1912, in class, university life, the London poor, the early atomic scientists, in love and kindness, in feminism, in good writing...wilL ADORE this short extraordinary book
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