Into Fred's orderly life comes Daisy, with a bang, literally. One moment the two are perfect strangers, fellow cyclists on a dark country road; the next, they are casualties of a freakish accident, occupants of the same warm bed. Fred has never been so close to a woman before, and none so pretty, so plainspoken, and yet so, mysterious. Is she a manifestation of chaos, or is she a sign of another kind of order?
As the smitten Fred pursues these questions, Penelope Fitzgerald suggests that scientists can still be mistaken and that the soul must still be answered, even in this age of the atom.
©1990 Penelope Fitzgerald; (P)1998 Blackstone Audiobooks
Nobody conveys the ordinary sense of life within a time like Penelope Fitzgerald. Here, her characters balance on the cusp of scientific and religious thought before the First World War, trying to reconcile the atom and the existence or non-existence of God; or, in the case of Daisy, getting on with it and carving a place for her own fierce physical presence in a dry, intellectual, uninvolved world.
The book takes surprising turns; at the start, it seems to be a comfortable, Masterpiece Theatre kind of story; then it jolts into something very different. It isn't the romance it later seems to be developing into either - and the ending leaves you puzzling. I am now searching for more books by this author; I am amazed I have have been unaware of her until now. The reading is so well done you barely notice it.
I really wanted to like this. Fred's story, in Cambridge, is full of charm, sensitivity, and an appreciation of the sheer intellectual excitement of early 20th C. physics-- frustratingly just beyond the reach of a very junior don. Fred is earnest, hopeful, and eager to embrace life, which he finds full of unexpected challenges.
Daisy's story, on the other hand, falls flat. She's an unappealing character with a predictable life, and she faces her own challenges (poverty, class and gender inequality, no education) with absolutely nothing that surprised, informed, or enriched my own life. Bah! What a dud.
Fred's charming (and better-written) half of the story rates a 4, but wasn't enough to salvage the other half for me. I'll average them out to a 3. The narration was good. Don't expect too much of or be initmidated by the references to physics-- they're all fairly vague and innocuous, more of an atmospheric touch than anything else. Chaos theory, of course, is anachronistic for early 20th C. :-)
Penelope Fitzgerald is known for writing intense stories that make the reader think--so I was looking forward to this book. And while the story of romance between a highly educated man and a clever, but poor young woman was compelling--I could barely get through the story due to the narration. The reader, Nadia May, was simple horrible. She sounded at times like there were marbles in her mouth and she could barely get her tongue around the words. I hate saying negative things about any book, but my advice is to by-pass this one and download "The Photograph," by Penelope Lively. THAT is a great story, well presented by savvy performers.
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