Playing the Seraphine

Frank Kermode

  • The Means of Escape: Stories by Penelope Fitzgerald
    Flamingo, 117 pp, £12.99, October 2000, ISBN 0 00 710030 2

This is a collection of eight stories, the oldest first published in 1975, the most recent in 1999; so they punctuate the entire, brief career of a writer who never yielded to the temptation to go on until there seemed to be nothing more to say. Her novels are exactly long enough. They accommodate her unique ability to imagine and record all the necessary authenticating detail of her settings: Cambridge before the Great War, Germany in the time of Goethe and Novalis, Pre-Revolutionary Moscow. The achievements of the novelist betoken a wonderfully economical habit, but perhaps the trick is more difficult to bring off in the even more limited space of the short story; and it is true that not all of the tales in this collection have the fineness and fullness of the novels, though some of them have a touch of the same quiet power to astonish.

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