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The Beginning of Spring [Paperback]

Penelope Fitzgerald
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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4.5 out of 5 stars
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5.0 out of 5 stars A question Oct. 12 2000
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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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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3.0 out of 5 stars Russia and its effects on her people Oct. 1 1998
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Penelope Fitzgerald - The Unexpected Sept. 20 1998
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.
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