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The Beginning of Spring Paperback – 1998


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Paperback, 1998
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039590871X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395908716
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.1 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,523,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 28 2010
Format: Paperback
Imagine Moscow in 1913: The Russian society is in transition; traditional political structures are being challenged by popular movements; industrial technological advances are leading to workers' unrests; an atmosphere of foreboding is palpable in every strata of society including among the English expatriates in Moscow. Frank Reid, an English business man, born and raised in Moscow, is highly conscious of the changing political landscape. After years of training in Western Europe he has returned to Moscow with his young family to take over his father's large printing press operations. Following an apparently harmonious and organized period during which the family had settled, Frank's wife Nellie suddenly departs without warning, leaving Frank to balance challenges at work with new responsibilities at home with his three children.

Penelope Fitzgerald's novel weaves a delicate and gracefully imagined portrayal of the man at the centre, his attempts at normalcy despite inner doubts and conflicts. In fact, all her characters are exquisitely drawn and remain memorable beyond the reading of the novel. Selwyn Crane, the poetry-writing accountant who is also a follower of the Tolstoyan movement, is one such character, who is endearing despite his rather bumbling personality. Amongst other, possibly questionable, advice he recommends to Frank to hire the young Russian peasant girl, Lisa Ivanovna, as a governess for the children. She remains a mysterious, yet attractive, character and may not be as innocent and placid as she appears.
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By taking a rest on Oct. 12 2000
Format: Paperback
Did your copy have 187 pages? If it had more, I would very much like to know how your version finishes. I, and others have commented on how Ms. Fitzgerald leaves a certain ambiguity at the end of some of her works. She invites her readers to finish the story based on what she has shared, or the reader has understood. This time around, I first felt I was reading a work like Dickens' unfinished, "The Mystery Of Edwin Drood". However this time it was a bit abrupt, a door opens, the reader pops their head in, and, she decapitates the reader with efficiency that Dr. Guillotine would have admired.
This is the fifth of her nine novels I have read, and it will be difficult to top this work. Everything I have read has been excellent, so the pleasure of reading her work is just a matter of degree. The complaint as stated at the beginning is more frustration than anything else. So much appears to be shared with the reader, that ultimately deception is far to mild a word, and then when you think the puzzle is complete; she adds another thousand potential pieces by bringing the story to an abrupt halt.
But the story really is quite complete. After you read what she has written a logical explanation follows. She sets the process in motion, steps back, and knows the reader will continue to follow her lead. She pulls the strings of a reader like twine on a top. Once pulled she can step back, the top continues to spin. She is as manipulative as any writer I have had the pleasure to read, she also respects her readers with the presumption they will read what she gives them, and though left wanting more, will be able to put their own finish to what she has written.
I cannot use any names, as it would ruin the piece.
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Format: Paperback
This is the most likable of the four PF novels I've read (I admire all of them). Her ability to create characters with extreme economy is breath-taking. Even more than in _Blue Flower_, she illuminates a milieu distant and time and space, the Moscow of a British businessman in Moscow ca. 1913 (i.e., on the verge of the First World War, the Bolshevik revolution further off). I don't really know that there were households or businesses like those she brings to life. If the concrete details are imagined rather than researched, her accomplishment is even greater, but it is also considerable if she has "merely" brought back to life vanished Russian and expatrate English ways of being.

One of Fitzgerald's many gifts is creating prematurely wise prepubescent female characters (as in _The Bookshop_ and _Offshore_) who view the fumblings of adults with clear-eyed but mostly gracious bemusement and fitfully attempt to keep the adults from totally mucking up. Dolly takes that role here. The omniscient narrator has her own compassionate bemusement at the frailities of adults who want to be loved and try to be useful to others. Frank and Selwyn are prime examples from this book. As far as I can tell, the only thing Ms. Fitzgerald can't do is create rounded prepubescent male characters (Ben here).
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Format: Paperback
I wanted to like "The Beginning of Spring." Infact, I wanted to love it. After all, Penelope Fitzgerald is one of the finest writers we have today. She writes precisely and succintly which is difficult considering the complexities of her characters and topics. However, what I find lacking in "The Beginning of Spring" is an interesting story line. When Ms. Fitzgerald tells the story of Frank Reid and his wife Nellie who suddenly leaves one day without returning she presents us with an interesting premise. How Frank copes with this loss and measures he must undertake to raise his children is well accompolished by Ms. Fitzgerald. It is amazing to me the clarity that Ms. Fitzgerald has in the human condition and the psychological process we go through to cope. However, the other major story line about Frank's business and the political upheavel of Russia seems laborious. I lost interest in her discussions about Russia's communism and the effects it has on Frank's business - too much time appeared to be spent detailing the Russian society. Perhpas it is just me, but unlike "The Blue Flower," a magnificent piece of literature which focused more directly on the characters, "The Beginning of Spring" is more of a statement about Russia and the times which left me unsatisfied. I have to give this novel a good rating, however, as Ms. Fitzgerald's writing is nothing short of perfection. I will continue to read her works.
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