Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Crusoe's Daughter," by Jane Gardam

There is a special pleasure in opening a novel and immediately feeling one is in the hands of a master. (Side note: I really wish there were an equivalent, non-gendered term for women, one that did not have the other connotations that the word “mistress” does. Or better still, a gender-neutral term. “Master” is ostensibly gender-neutral nowadays, but it doesn't really feel that way.) There is that leap of recognition and joy at knowing that one can absolutely trust that the pages ahead will be beautifully written and will take the reader on a journey that will be original, that will connect with one’s own experience yet make one see the world in a new way. This is what I have learned to feel when beginning a novel by Jane Gardam. On 3/18/10 I wrote about how terrific her paired novels, “Old Filth” and “The Man in the Wooden Hat” were. I have read some of her other work as well, including her short story collection “The People on Privilege Hill.” I have just finished her “Crusoe’s Daughter,” which was originally published in the U.S. in 1985, has now been reissued (Europa, 2012), and is being reviewed very positively this year. Oh, what a novel! It is the story of Polly Flint, from age six to her current age of 85, and her life in a yellow house on the marshes in rural northern England. An orphan, she is raised by two aunts and a few other adults (a friend who lives with the aunts, a housekeeper, an uncle who comes to visit regularly); she rarely travels away from her beloved house and marshes; she has brushes with love and sex, but never marries. She never goes to school (she is what we would now call home-schooled) but her real education comes through the books in her late grandfather’s library. In particular, throughout her life, her great guiding light is the novel “Robinson Crusoe.” She reads and re-reads it dozens of times, eventually translates it into German and French, and writes about it. More important, she uses it as a source of inspiration, information, strength, and moral guidance. I worry that this plot description in no way does justice to the power and beauty of the story. “Crusoe’s Daughter” is crisply, precisely written, yet sings. It is so engaging that I spent most of a day reading it, a day when I should have been doing other things, but just had to keep reading, not in a page-turner bestseller way, but in the way one feels when one has entered a unique, compelling universe and can’t bear not to stay in it to the end. I haven’t given this designation to a book for a while, but enthusiastically give it to “Crusoe’s Daughter”: Highly recommended!


  1. Stephanie, I love Jane Gardam but haven't read this one yet. Thanks for your review. I can't wait to read it!

    1. Mary, I am so glad you are a Gardam fan. She is such an amazing writer. I hope you like Crusoe's Daughter as much as I did.


Site Meter