‘The Axe’ by Penelope Fitzgerald

I read all of Penelope Fitzgerald’s fiction for the first time last year. Her novel The Gate of Angels, set in a Cambridge college in 1912, contains a spectacular pastiche of an M.R. James-style chilling tale. Rather than close the narrative however, I have instead opted for ‘The Axe’, one of the first things Fitzgerald wrote. It has several elements in common with the other stories I have selected here – if you have read it, they will be obvious – but the twist on this occasion is there is no twist; no one is coming to help the narrator or the reader.

In narrative at its purest or most eventful we do not understand but are the narrative.

This is an open ending. And so is this. They are, I think, the way to go.

First published in The Times Anthology of Ghost Stories, Jonathan Cape, 1975, and in The Means of Escape, Flamingo, 2000, now Fourth Estate, 2016

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