Top positive review
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A love story delivered with the utmost facility in elegant and precise language
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.