This chapter considers the five short novels Fitzgerald wrote between 1977 and 1982: The Golden Child, The Bookshop, Offshore, Human Voices and At Freddie’s. Each of these ‘early’ novels draws upon Fitzgerald’s own life, and all but one contain female protagonists who resemble Fitzgerald herself either in her youth or middle-age. The chapter discusses the origins, themes and style of each novel, noting how each book has been received by critics and general readers since it was first published. The chapter argues that, to a certain extent, the early novels have unjustly been seen as mere apprentice work in preparation for Fitzgerald’s later historical fiction. This perspective risks underrating the earlier works’ particular qualities. These include the deft evocation of wholly believable times and places; finely observed characters swept along on cross-currents of thought, feeling and happenstance; sudden parabolic swerves in mood and story arising from the situations in which people find themselves; dialogue that is by turns oblique, elliptical and heartbreakingly frank; submerged but telling literary and topical allusions; and sharp criticism of cruelty in all its forms and corresponding sympathy for those who suffer from it.
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