This is a marvellous book and one that I’d been looking forward to reading for some time. Penelope Fitzgerald died in 2000 at the age of 83. She wrote The Blue Flower in her seventies. The first I heard of Penelope Fitzgerald was via The Guardian’s 1,000 novels list, I got a couple of her books, discovered they were not on the list, then put them on my ‘pile of shame’ to read at some point. Then I accidentally found out what The Blue Flower was about and thought I’d been an idiot not to have got it and not to have read the other books sooner. I read The Bookshop a couple of months ago as penance, asked for The Blue Flower for Christmas and finished it last night.
It is a historical novel about German Romantic poet and philosopher Novalis and his love for a 12 year old girl Sophie, who he called his Philosophy. I’d studied Novalis and his friends and contemporaries a little in a fabulous course I did a couple of years ago. They were a little difficult to grasp at first, it was all to do with metaphysics and the big questions, but I did grasp them eventually and have had a soft spot for them ever since. It was their vitality, the freshness of thought and their conviction that really appealed to me. The philosophy was wonderfully captured by Fitzgerald and woven into the narrative. Yet this is barely even noticeable, certainly not laboured. Fitzgerald’s style is simple and unassuming and the story is as much about the various relationships with family and friends, customs and traditions as it is about Novalis’s unexpected love. There is food and feasting, occasional comments on the French Revolution and funny moments too. I am very glad that I’ve finally read it – to be honest, I was a little scared at first that I’d built this book up in my mind into something it could never be but it was even better than I thought possible. Fitzgerald never published anything before she was sixty, there is hope for us all.