The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 25 October 2002

The Beginning of Spring

by Penelope Fitzgerald

This quirky little novel was nominated for the Booker Prize some years ago. Frank Reid is the son of a British publisher who's business was set up in pre-revolutionary Russia. After his father dies, Frank returns to the Moscow where he was born after spending years in Britain and Germany. The book opens upon the ruins of Frank's marriage, though, as his loving wife Nellie has taken off, leaving him and their three precocious kids to make it alone in the late winter months of 1913. There are stirrings of the coming revolution in the air, and these characters are subtly affected by the bold and contradictory character of Russia the nation. However, the book is highly British in its own character, with reticent players too polite to be bold. Frank seems to just let his wife drift off with no real explanation. He takes things in an almost comically accepting manner. He then makes bumbling advances to the young woman he hires to take care of Dolly, Ben and Annushka. Fitzgerald does a great job bringing to life the Moscow of that era, with its snowy landscape and bitter revolutionary students. The conflict between the Russian and British attitudes is the central theme here. Some of Fitzgerald's story telling, though, is just a tad anachronistic, with just a little more late 20th century thinking placed back in the early 20th century. The book is odd, off-beat, sometimes touching, but sometimes frustratingly vague. An interesting view into that time, though.

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Also by Fitzgerald: [The Golden Child]

[Other Women Authors]