Alexandra Turney's Reviews > The Blue Flower

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
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it was amazing
bookshelves: lovelovelove, made-me-cry, uk
Recommended for: aspiring writers

A gorgeous, elliptical book, which I was drawn to by its subject (eighteenth century German philosopher and poet becomes obsessed with unattractive twelve year old girl). I fell in love with The Blue Flower just like Fritz - later known as Novalis - did with Sophie, only the book's positive qualities are slightly more obvious. It's beautifully written, understated, and perhaps more touching than you would expect. Fitzgerald never demands that you like her characters, and there's no sentimentality, but you care about the von Hardenburgs (and Sophie) anyway, because they're so strangely endearing. How can you read this book and not want the Bernhard as your younger brother?

If you approach it like a more conventional novel, then you'll probably be disappointed, because the pace of the narrative is quite unusual, and occasionally the focus seems odd - most novelists would struggle to keep the reader's interest with chapters on salt-mining. But somehow, it works. The description's so minimal, and Fitzgerald evokes a society in a sentence with more success than most other writers could manage in a chapter. "How does she do it?", asks A. S. Byatt. Well, I don't know. But as someone interested in writing, I'm sure I'll find myself re-reading this, in the hope that it becomes slightly less enigmatic. I think any aspiring writer could benefit from The Blue Flower, not only as a rewarding novel in its own right, but as proof that you don't need long-winded descriptions to convey settings and characters. Or, indeed, to make the reader feel so inexpicably attached to your characters that the Afterword leaves them feeling devastated.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 17, 2009 – Shelved
February 18, 2009 – Shelved as: lovelovelove
July 18, 2009 – Shelved as: made-me-cry
December 12, 2010 – Shelved as: uk

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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Audra (Unabridged Chick) I hated this book, but liked your review, because it was so lovely to read! You liked and admired exactly what I disliked about the book -- so much so, I'm even wondering if should attempt a reread!


Alexandra Turney Thanks - I'm glad you liked my review!

I loved the book on the first read, but it might be the kind of novel that you appreciate more with a second reading... If you do decide to give it another go, I hope you get more out of it this time.


Leigh I know this review was written years ago, but I just finished The Blue Flower tonight, and wanted to say how much I agree with your review and your take on how the book works. Particularly your point about the way you (I) find yourself surprised how emotionally invested you are in all of these people and how affecting the ending is. Thank you for articulating it so well! :)


Fran I highly recommend the new 2015 audio book of this. It is amazing to become lost in the 18th century while whizzing along a highway in the 21st. The world that Fitzgerald slowly builds immerses you completely.


Edward "Understated and elliptical" - good adjectives that perhaps apply to any love between two people - incomprehensible to outsiders.


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