Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life

Knopf. Nov. 2014. 512p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780385352345. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385352352. LIT
British biographer Lee, whose previous subjects include Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, here tackles an English novelist who is not as well known as these other writers, at least in the United States. Fitzgerald (1916–2000) did win a Booker Prize, and she had some success during her lifetime, especially from critics and the reading public. While she wrote a number of short novels, as well as a few biographies, her writing career started when she was middle-aged, so her output is comparatively limited. Also, she was very reticent about herself; in interviews she avoided discussing her family and other private information. Lee, who met and interviewed Fitzgerald toward the end of the novelist's life, vividly evokes the times in which Fitzgerald lived, how her experiences shaped her fiction, and how her personality can be gleaned from her works. Fitzgerald could be both charming and critical, sharp-tongued and loving, but eminently worth reading.
VERDICT Just as Fitzgerald, in her biography of British poet Charlotte Mew, made her subject come alive, so Lee, in this scrupulously researched and sympathetic portrait of a worthy and accomplished novelist, makes a strong case for renewed interest in Fitzgerald's works. Highly recommended for anyone interested in well-written literary biographies. [See Prepub Alert, 5/12/14.]
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