Many writers tend to get stuck on one theme and write the same story over and over. Not Penelope Fitzgerald! I've enjoyed THE BOOK SHOP, OFFSHORE, and THE BLUE FLOWER, each so different that I'm amazed the same author penned them.
THE BEGINNING OF SPRING is my most recent Fitzgerald reading, and it may be my favorite so far. Frank Reid, the main character, runs a printing company in Moscow, a business he inherited from his father. Frank was born and brought up in Moscow although he is still considered a foreigner because his parents were English. Frank was sent back to England to polish his education and while there he married Nellie, a woman who felt constrained by the narrowness of her English hometown. She was ready to leave that town, but she wasn't prepared for Moscow and could never quite adjust. One day, she gathers up their three children and leaves on the train to return to England. Not being able to cope with the children, she sends them back to Frank before she continues onto England. Frank is mystified by his wife's actions and doesn't know if he will be able to cope with the children either.
This is the story of a domestic crisis, but the backdrop of unrest brewing in Russia clearly presages the Revolution. The year is 1913. Frank doesn't know how much longer he can maintain his business, and he's not sure where his sympathies lie.
Ms. Fitzgerald does have one trick: she seems to lead the reader one direction, and then bam! you find that's not where she was headed afterall. I thought THE BEGINNING OF SPRING was quietly wonderful, but when it concluded I found that it just seemed quiet and the resolution was resounding.