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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars �I don�t say I won�t Fred�
That declarative double negative is about as definitive as the various parts of this story ever seem to be. When I reviewed "The Blue Flower" I said Ms. Fitzgerald didn't hand the story to you. In "The Gate Of Angels" I'm still trying to decide what the reader was supposed to find, what resolution we were supposed to arrive at. One Commercial Review suggested the end was...
Published on October 11, 2000 by taking a rest

versus
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy on the versimilitude
I can't remember where I first heard of Fitzgerald, although I suspect it was from one of the well-read subscribers to Rondua, the Jonathan Carroll mailing list. She is not a magic realist or fantasy author (as far as I can tell from reviews of her work and the present volume), although the book in question could be considered a ghost story it one wanted to interpret it...
Published on February 22, 2003 by Glen Engel Cox


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars �I don�t say I won�t Fred�, October 11, 2000
This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
That declarative double negative is about as definitive as the various parts of this story ever seem to be. When I reviewed "The Blue Flower" I said Ms. Fitzgerald didn't hand the story to you. In "The Gate Of Angels" I'm still trying to decide what the reader was supposed to find, what resolution we were supposed to arrive at. One Commercial Review suggested the end was left for us to decide, and while that may sound like an easy out from a wraith like ending, it is quite reasonable.
Ms. Fitzgerald is meticulous in what she writes, or perhaps what she only implies in this story. A portion of the story centers on debating, with the participants arguing that position which they personally do not believe. Good deeds are punished, perception though erroneous, too is punished, and when one character falls ill and while being helped exclaims "Surely it can't be...?" again it is a negative, not because the help is proffered, but because of the makeup of the individual who has walked on the grass.
I believe as with "The Bookshop" Ms. Fitzgerald unfolds her story much as it would happen were it true. Sometimes we fear a confrontation, only to find it existed in our minds only. Family that we feel we should know better than all others can surprise and shock. Her books are not all neatly tied up with contrivance like most, not everything is resolved, mistakes and wrongs remain, and all is not fixed.
For anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of reading one of this lady's works, a clarification is important. Comparing anything she writes to commercial supermarket checkout romance novels is patently absurd. This Authoress writes at a level that is universally admired by her peers and Professional Critics alike. To make the earlier comparison of her work can be described most charitably, by hoping that someone who never opened one of this lady's books made the comment. Were this to appear at the cinema it would be a stretch to get much past PG. This lady is a writer of distinction, not a purveyor of mindless trash.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small miracle, May 5, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
Penelope Fitzgerald is truly amazing. This novel is short, easy to read, and often very funny; at the end, you think "How charming!" and put it down. But it keeps echoing in your mind: no detail in the book is insignificant, and everything is subtly linked together to support its central themes. (Compare Pope Benedict's grace, the inscription on Aunt Effie's ring, and the angels on the college gate; or consider Fred's mother and sisters against Professor Matthews' seemingly irrelevant ghost story. And note Professor Flowerdew's qualms about the new atomic theory, which relies on the "unobservable" ... ) The book is far more moving than most novels five times its length, and leaves an indelible impression on the reader.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There are more things in heaven and earth..., July 24, 2000
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This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
This is a lovely book. Penelope Fitzgerald was a subtle writer. She had a marvellous gift for conveying character and setting with the minimum of fuss. Consequently, her novels are quite short and easy to read. `The Gate of Angels' gives us England at the beginning of the 20th Century. The advances of Rutherford and Mach (among others) were being disseminated. Scientific rationalism was to the fore. This is chiefly represented in Fitzgerald's central character, Fred Fairly, a junior fellow at a Cambridge College. However, his chance meeting with Daisy Saunders begins to challenge his view. While Fitzgerald never explicitly says so, the implication is clear: even in a world where science is thought to explain everything, there are some aspects of that world which will not bow. Some may find the lack of resolution frustrating. However, enough has been said to reasonably leave any further consequences to the readers' imagination.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nobody does it better, May 27, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
The hero of this novel, a young don, thinks that science will offer certainty and refuge from the vagaries of the spiritual. On the other hand--after he finds himself naked in bed with an unknown woman--the vagaries of the physical threaten to undo him quite. (Remember, this wild novel is set at Cambridge University in 1912, in a college which very much doesn't allow women.) I love and fear each new Fitzgerald novel--love because she's so great, fear because, well, what if I don't like it as much as all the others? I'm finally beginning to learn that fear is unnecessary--enjoyment (not to mention, relativity) is all!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars nipped in the bud, December 21, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
A delightful novella, which should have been longer. The questions it sets up, about physics, the soul, and the body, could fill a thousand pages. I enjoyed the characterizations, as well as the love story, and would like to know what's ahead for these two souls.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy on the versimilitude, February 22, 2003
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This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
I can't remember where I first heard of Fitzgerald, although I suspect it was from one of the well-read subscribers to Rondua, the Jonathan Carroll mailing list. She is not a magic realist or fantasy author (as far as I can tell from reviews of her work and the present volume), although the book in question could be considered a ghost story it one wanted to interpret it that way. Of the authors of my acquaintance, she most resembles Robertson Davies in style and form. I don't think that I am creating a relationship based on subject material, although I must admit that Davies also wrote a couple of novels of love and the university, as well as a collection of ghost stories.
The year is 1912. Fred Fairly is a Young Fellow at Cambridge's St. Angelicus College, which has fairly strict ideas on the proper conduct of its members, including a requirement of non-marriage. While biking, Fairly collides with an unlit cart and is injured. Upon regaining consciousness, he finds himself in a bed with a fellow victim, who, by circumstance and a gold ring on her fourth finger, is mistaken as his wife. Fred finds the prospect not displeasing.
In other hands--say P. G. Wodehouse or Thorne Smith--such a plot would be filled with spirited high jinx, including mistaken identities and timing difficulties. Fitzgerald's humor is not of that sort. Like Davies, it derives less from exaggeration and more from verisimilitude. This is not to say that there are not amusing passages. I especially enjoyed Fred's family: his suffragette mother and two younger sisters and his put-upon father, the Rector.
This is Fitzgerald's eighth novel, and her ability in story and sentence construction is masterful. Although I found this book to be a little dry for my particular taste, I expect I will try a different vintage of hers at some later date.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than "The Blue Flower", February 24, 2000
This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
I was unsure about this book because I wasn't that moved by Fitzgerald's "The Blue Flower" but "Gate of Angels" really enthralled me. There is a lot of humor and affection here, and also an echo of Evelyn Waugh in the college setting. I have the feeling that I will read this work several more times with increasing enjoyment.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jeu d'esprit, January 31, 2009
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This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
Though little more than a fable, this charming novel explores serious questions of faith and reason. By attempting to balance qualities that are essentially irreconcilable, Penelope Fitzgerald brings off an entertaining juggling act, even though the various parts do not completely hang together.

Fred Fairly, a junior fellow at a fictional Cambridge college, works at the Cavendish Laboratory in 1912, at the dawn of the new science of nuclear physics. The son of an Anglican rector, he has abandoned Christianity in favor of rationalism -- yet he finds himself profoundly affected by a highly irrational occurrence. Following a cycling accident on a country road, he wakes up in bed with a beautiful stranger, and immediately falls in love with her. He cannot explain such love, and Fitzgerald deliberately makes it impossible for him to rationalize the attraction in social terms. For Daisy Saunders, the young woman in question, is a nurse's aide from a poor district of London; there is no way she would be considered a suitable marriage partner for a Cambridge don. But in many ways she is more fully realized than Fred himself is; she certainly has a head on her shoulders and her feet on the ground.

In 1990, when this book was published, Penelope Fitzgerald was in her seventies and had been writing for only fifteen years. Her novels tend to reflect the aesthetic of an earlier era, notably in a balanced prose style one might expect of Virginia Woolf or Elizabeth Bowen, coupled with an almost naive view of romantic love. These qualities will come into their own in her final masterpiece THE BLUE FLOWER, in which exquisite style and an idealized romanticism precisely capture the spirit of the German poet Novalis. Here, though, the two are deliberately at odds. Fairly inhabits an ivory palace whose academic courtiers delight in debates that may bear little relationship to their actual feelings. With the pragmatism of poverty, Daisy says what she means and does what she must; Fitzgerald's description of her background might have come from Somerset Maugham's OF HUMAN BONDAGE. The author goes further by erecting an even more ethereal Cambridge within the real one; Fairly's college, St. Angelicus, is imagined as a monastic enclave to which no women are admitted, and he belongs to a contrarian debating society whose members are all required to argue against their firmly-held points of view.

Unfortunately, little is made of Fairly's discipline as a nuclear physicist. Early in the novel, his mentor, a physicist of the old school, predicts the development of quantum mechanics, portraying it as the abandonment of physical rationalism in favor of a vague mathematical faith. It is a brilliantly lucid passage that perfectly captures the theme of the book; I wish that more of it had been on this level. I also wish that the very likeable characters might have interacted on more solid ground -- though if all the ground had been as solid as Daisy's there would be no debate. So this turns out to be more a jeu d'esprit than a novel; but there is an abundance of spirit here, and so much fun.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pure delight, August 1, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
This tale, while both haunting and memorable, was my introduction to Fitzgerald. Her descriptions are wonderful, the characters full of depth. I highly suggest this novel. It is not traditional, but very engaging.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming, December 25, 1998
This review is from: The Gate of Angels (Paperback)
A man of reason is confounded by the seemingly random event of a bicycle accident and it's inexplicable consequence: emotional (and sexual) obsession with a stranger. Finely drawn characters, with a plot and resolution that are a bit lighter and more hopeful than some of the author's other works.
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The Gate of Angels
The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald (Paperback - April 3, 1998)
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