Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gulland's reply:
I am very slowly reading Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee.Visit Sandra Gulland's website.
Fitzgerald, if you're not familiar with her work, was a Booker Prize–winning English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. Many of her novels are historical, and yet they are all amazingly slim, often under 200 pages. I admire Fitzgerald's novels for their spare yet rich quality. (They are also playfully funny.) She was short-listed for the Booker for The Bookshop, won the Booker for Offshore, and her final book, The Blue Flower—considered her masterpiece—won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Blue Flower was named one of "the ten best historical novels" by The Observer, and The Times included Fitzgerald in a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945." What's astonishing to me—and no doubt to any writer—is that she was first published at the age of 58.
The biography of Fitzgerald details her life, but Hermione Lee also goes into detail about each book, the process of writing and then publishing it. Fitzgerald kept notebooks, and these are an excellent source of her wisdom. "One of the privileges of dialogue is silence," for example.
Of course the biography inspires me to read her novels. I'm reading one of her early works now, At Freddie's. As always, the voice is wry and witty—very enjoyable. I've read The Blue Flower twice before, and I will no doubt read it again. Offshore is also tempting to reread, but before I do that, I have several other Fitzgerald novels to explore. She is a writer from whom a writer may learn a very great deal.
The Page 69 Test: The Shadow Queen.