Family Life

Penelope Fitzgerald

  • Poet and Dancer by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
    Murray, 199 pp, £14.99, April 1993, ISBN 0 7195 5189 7
  • Peerless Flats by Esther Freud
    Hamish Hamilton, 218 pp, £14.99, February 1993, ISBN 0 241 13385 8

The poet is not a poet in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s new novel, and the dancer is not a dancer. ‘Although her movements were always the same – she waved her arms above her head, she ran now to the right of the room, now to the left – her audience obligingly saw what she wanted them to see. She was pleased, she ran faster, she attempted to spin round; her tread was not light, and she was flustered and breathing hard.’ The dancer aims to impress, but she is also self-deluded. The poet is not. ‘When she came upstairs she sat at this table and tried to write poetry. It came very hard. When she was small, words had flown out of her like birds; now they fell back into her like stones. Their hardness seemed to lacerate her, and often she had to rest her head on the table to recover before she could go on.’

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