Friday, August 08, 2008

A new type of doughnut

Another nice piece on Penelope Fitzgerald's letters: Peter Terzian in the National of Abu Dhabi. (Link courtesy of Caleb.) A sample:
The few words she offers her correspondents on her novels and novel writing will likely have prospective fiction writers gnashing their teeth. She wrote The Bookshop in “rather a few weeks”. Anyone can write a single-consciousness novel, she writes to an editor, “if they can find a pen and a bit of paper”. Her tendency toward self-effacement – “My whole life is spent in apologising to someone or other, I’m afraid” – may have been a mask for her ambition and persistence. She must have been aware of, and fiercely protective of, the mysterious source of her creativity.

Fitzgerald’s letters are never malicious or gossipy. Still, it’s a pleasure to read her privately expressed opinions. Born into a clerical family, she was as intolerant of bad behaviour or impoliteness – “the dread Malcolm Bradbury seems to be made of some plastic or semi-fluid substance which gives way or changes in your hands” – as she was impatient with bad books: “Trying to conceal an absolute conviction that Salman Rushdie’s new novel is a load of codswallop.” She is generous with praise, of people (“Sybille Bedford a tower of strength”) and writing (“Ishiguro yes!”).

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