The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald - review by Lynne Truss

Lynne Truss

Joys of Young Love in a Superb Ghost Story

The Gate of Angels

By

Collins 168pp £12.95 order from our bookshop
 

Just towards the end of Penelope Fitzgerald's brilliant new novel, the reader is treated to a ghost-story, told in the manner of M R James. It is the harrowing tale of an 1870s archaeological dig in a field near Cambridge, on the site of an ancient nunnery dedicated to St Salome ('the Virgin Mary's midwife'). This site – now resembling a double-row of piggeries – appears, at first glance, unremarkable, but it nevertheless has a nasty effect on one of the academics, who starts to relive the fate of a 15th-century commissioner sent to evict the nuns. 'In, in, in. Under, under, under,' he hears women intone repeatedly (when there is, of course, nobody there). After he experiences a highly traumatic encounter with a hole in a wall (which in later life he would never discuss), we learn that in the course of excavation, the skeleton of the 15th- century commissioner was duly found. 'It appeared to have been crushed and rolled up and then stretched or elongated.' The body had been inserted, it seems, inch by inch into a culvert. And it had probably still been alive at the time.

Like genuine M R James stories, Fitzgerald's pastiche daintily sets

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Incomparible Monsignor

Kafka Drawings

Follow Literary Review on Twitter