Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald Review


The Blue Flower is another of the books my dear old dad got me at Christmas and, like the other one I read, What a Life! by JB Priestley, it is a stone cold turkey! I’m not sure what my pa asked for when he went into the bookstore, but I’m pretty sure it was “I want to bore my son like he’s never been bored before - what books do you suggest?”

The novel looks at the short life of Novalis, an obscure late 18th century German Romantic philosopher/poet and his relationship with his 14 year old betrothed, Sophie. On the edge of your seat yet? But wait, there’s more! Novalis is also administrator of a salt mine and then Sophia dies at 15 of a brain tumour or something. Novalis dies shortly after aged 28. 

Yeah, that sounds like something I’d be interested in... grumble. Don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this guy or wanting to read about this era but whatever - thanks dad! 

I’m really not sure what Penelope Fitzgerald was going for in this book. Novalis and Sophie’s story isn’t very exciting and I’m not sure what writing about it was meant to elicit in me. I suppose it’s a bit scandalous today that a twentysomething was interested in a child for his bride but it was acceptable back in the 18th century. Why was he so obsessed with Sophie - was he just a pedo albeit mentally (he never actually sleeps with her)? No clue.

I also didn’t really understand much about Novalis’ work or its relevance to Western culture. He kept calling Sophie his “philosophy” but I never really got what that meant or what his work and art was about. Then again I was nodding off every other paragraph! This 282 page book took nearly a month for me to get through because it’s so easy to put down - the pacing is so slow and plodding! 

It’s also annoying that the book has a lot of untranslated German, which I don’t speak, and the characters and places have long German names and titles. A common sentence went along these lines:

“Johanturmhiem went to Turineingemain for the Polaintenurgin. Werntingethenineign was talking to Desingtineoiengiengn about the Kolieingeinteininininin’s Tuinhugjnguun at which the Versingintineugh was very much Gerugugunaeughuhunniinginging.” 

Say whaaaaaaaat?! 

A lot of the characters were very flat - I got a rough idea of who Sophie and Novalis were but everyone else was a blank - and everyone speaks in the same voice. I suppose it was mildly interesting (in comparison to the rest of the novel) towards the end when Sophia was dying, or maybe that was just my excitement at nearing the end of this dreary muck! 

This novel is like someone mildly dramatised a Wikipedia entry on Novalis. Read The Blue Flower if you want to feel the mental anguish young Sophie was going through. 

Gah… there are 8 more books on the Christmas pile! Oh no - is that Proust?! (Goes looking for noose)

The Blue Flower

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