I am still in that state of bliss and grief having finished a truly great book: Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower, about the 18th century German poet Novalis and his love for a 12-year-old girl. I have also been trying to work out how she did it.
One thing most certainly is the way Fitzgerald enters a scene at a finely-judged angle that skids you into it, the words shimmering and almost dissolving as it unfolds.
She elides more than you'd think possible, and at the same time selects an adjective or line of dialogue which opens out the scene and the people within it to the point of almost perfection. The sentences, as novelist A. S. Byatt notes, are 'delicious'. The social observations, humour, delicacy and cleverness are the closest to Jane Austen's work of any other writer I've read.
There is so much more to say, but oh, it is late, and having read novelist A.S. Byatt on Fitzgerald, I feel I must hand it over to her now. She gets to The Blue Flower at the end of the review on the Threepenny Review website, but the whole thing is worth reading for what it says about Fitzgerald's writing.
It begins like this:
Penelope Fitzgerald writes discreet, brief, perfect tales. Her first novel was published in 1977, when she was already over sixty. She won the Booker Prize in 1979 for Offshore, a comedy with an edge about a family barely surviving on a houseboat on the Thames. Her early novels are English-kindly studies of the endless absurdity of human behavior, seen simultaneously with an unwavering moral gaze. She is interested in traditional forms-the plotted detective story, the supernatural tale.
In 1986, with Innocence, she began to write about other countries—Italy, Russia, Germany—and other centuries. This looking outwards from English manners was in the air at the time, and there has been a flowering of historically and geographically various fiction in Britain. But Fitzgerald's later novels are quite extraordinarily good. They made me at least re-read the earlier ones with closer attention, consider the delicious sentences, come to the conclusion that Fitzgerald was Jane Austen's nearest heir, for precision and invention. But she has other qualities, qualities I think of as European and metaphysical. She has what Henry James called "the imagination of disaster." She can make a reader helpless with inordinate private laughter. (I will give examples.) She is also one of those writers whose sentences, however brief, are recognizable as hers and no one else's, although they are classically elegant and unfussy.