Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

Title: The Blue Flower
Author: Penelope Fitzgerald
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Mariner Books
Published: 1997
Pages: 240

Rating: 3 out of 10

I got through The Blue Flower in merely half an hour, thankfully. Believe me, even a short 30 minutes seemed a long while stuck in this terrible book.

It is the story of Fritz von Hardenberg, who will later become known as the poet Novalis, as he falls in love with and becomes inspired by a young teenage girl named Sophie.

I think it is safe to say that I thoroughly disliked every page here. A very prominent feeling I had toward it was the following: "huh...???"

First, there was the theme of "romance," which was ridiculous and strange. Fritz, who is 20, falls in love with Sophie, age 12. I know that back then, 12 was a common age to become a wife, but it still seemed off to me. Sophie was depicted entirely as a little girl, often coming across to the reader as younger than her age, rather than older. Oh and, at least you can take comfort in the fact that it isn't until she is 13 that she actually marries Fritz. And then Erasmus (Fritz's brother) falls in love with Sophie as well, randomly and without explanation. What? How old is he, now?

Another "huh??" aspect to this book were all of the many long, tedious German names and words that crowded every page. Some were long enough to be sentences in and of themselves. I think that if you speak German, or are at least familiar with it, this book would be a lot more relateable. However, to me, it definitely added an extra sense of separation from the setting.

None of the characters here were likable or interesting. In the first few pages, I thought that perhaps Fritz's rambunctious little brother, Bernhard, would grow up to become an engaging character. In the first few chapters, he runs off to the docks, dramatically threatens to drown himself even though everyone knows he swims "like a fish," and then quotes some deep philosophy to Fritz. However, this is the only time any spark of life or imagination showed in any of the characters.
The rest is pure drudgery.

I couldn't understand why Fritz fell in love with Sophie. She is merely a child, so it couldn't be that she seduced him with her womanly charm, or girlish charm for that matter. Sophie remains aloof with Fritz, and relatively uninterested.
There are two or three chapters where we get to read Sophie's diary, which confirms our impression of her as a dull, boring girl. Her diary entries are 2 sentences at the longest, and have nothing to say. Erasmus tells Fritz that Sophie is stupid, her head "empty as a new jug." And it's quite true.
However, Fritz is obsessed with her. I would question that he truly loved her. There was no romance in these pages, but I did get the impression that Fritz had come to depend faithfully on Sophie, wanting to force himself to believe that she was something special. I was disturbed, however, when he says toward the end of the book "I love Sophie more because she is ill."
It comes from nowhere, and is treated casually, justified. Doesn't anyone else think that this sounds wrong?

This book is a maze of long, foreign German words, a not-quite-love-story that we do not care about, and boredom. Not recommended.