And to end the suspense about which book I chose to read... it was The Bookshop. Though The Dud Avocado was close on its heels, The Bookshop being a very short 123 pages.
I find I'm of two minds about Penelope Fitzgerald. I like her and always pick up her books expecting to love them, but somehow I find myself ultimately unsatisfied. I like her writing style, and I always very much like her premises or her settings--a bookshop in a tiny seaside town, a tiny college of Oxford, both show lots of promise for my enjoying them. I often like her characters, too. I think it's just what she does with the characters and the settings that I find unsatisfying. These books are rather too short to have exactly what I'd call a plot, it's more an extended premise or even a series of (relatively mundane) events. It's not the lack of plot I mind, I suppose, just the outcomes. I think the settings of her books give me an expectation of what the book is going to be like, and that's never what it is, so I am unsatisfied because what I expect is exactly what I want. In a way, I guess, Penelope Fitzgerald's eluding of my expectations is a point for her skills as a writer. Her books are never what it says on the tin. They're very good, and I will probably keep reading them, even though on some level I find them disappointing.
Short books fascinate me, in a way. They're longer than a short story, quite long enough to get to know the characters, but too short to have a really involved plot. In a way, this makes them sort of like a slice of the life of a person you know really well, except that it's not someone you know so you've got a fresh view. And of course, there's always the joy of being able to finish them quickly so you can get on to something new.
Now I am on to The Dud Avocado. I started it ages ago and got distracted, but now I'm back to it and more into it that I was before, so hopefully I will finish it this time.