- The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald
Collins, 187 pp, £10.95, September 1988, ISBN 0 00 223261 8
- A Wedding of Cousins by Emma Tennant
Viking, 167 pp, £11.95, September 1988, ISBN 0 670 81502 0
- The Skeleton in the Cupboard by Alice Thomas Ellis
Duckworth, 138 pp, £9.95, September 1988, ISBN 0 7156 2269 2
Penelope Fitzgerald has always seemed a quintessentially English novelist, low-key, exquisitely perceptive, and with a notable feeling for place – the seedy houseboats on the Thames in Offshore, or the mean little Suffolk town that dominates The Bookshop. Her latest novel, The Beginning of Spring, is a surprise, and something of a tour de force. Its subject is Moscow just before the Revolution: ‘dear slovenly Moscow, bemused with the bells on its four times forty churches, indifferently sheltering factories, whore-houses and golden domes, impeded by Greeks and Persians and bewildered villagers and seminarists straying onto the tramlines, centred on its holy citadel but reaching outwards with a frowsty leap across the boulevards to the circle of workers’ dormitories and railheads, where the monasteries still prayed, and last to a circle of pigsties, cabbage patches, earth roads, earth closets, where Moscow sank back, seemingly with relief, into a village.’ The great messy city, muddling towards its destiny, is conjured up in vivid and astonishing detail: the narrow back streets with their seedy basement workshops; the crowded markets and railway stations; the exuberantly noisy club where the merchants drink tea and vodka; the vast dark river choked with broken ice and rubbish.