Customer Review

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I can't ever forget myself and how I have to be....I don't believe that I shall ever really fit in anywhere.", 21 April 2012
This review is from: Crusoe's Daughter (Abacus Books) (Paperback)
In what author Jane Gardam describes as "by far the favourite of all my books," Gardam uses her mother's childhood as a springboard for a novel about isolation, communication, and the writing of novels. Setting the novel at the turn of the twentieth century on the isolated northeast coast, where her mother spent her entire life, Gardam introduces five-year-old Polly Flint, who arrives with her widowed father at Oversands, a big yellow house occupied by his wife's older, unmarried sisters. Shortly after arriving, Polly's father dies, leaving her to be brought up by her Aunts Mary and Frances in a place so isolated that there are virtually no other children. In her loneliness Polly finds her greatest solace from the books in the library of the house. Her discovery of Robinson Crusoe, who lived in isolation on an island for twenty-eight-years, offers her a way of dealing with her own isolation.

Crusoe, an obviously pragmatic man who must deal with each day as it comes, relies on his own ingenuity to solve his problems, just as Polly knows she will have to do. Her first real conflict with the aunts comes when she is twelve, as she firmly rejects being Confirmed in the church, and refuses the idea of communion. Her aunts' religiosity cannot stand up to Robinson Crusoe's realism for her. "I'm young and I'm empty of life. I just am," she cries. "All the hymn-words spring up and the Collects, Creeds, and Epistles." Crusoe's realism becomes her religion.

Love and death eventually complicate life at Oversands, and in her teens Polly goes to stay with elderly family members, Arthur Thwaite and his sister Celia, who live on the Yorkshire moors, some distance away. Their house, an artists' retreat, expands her vision of life dramatically, though she is not sure if it is a madhouse, a hospital, or a private asylum. Poets, writers, and musicians, some of them failed, provide a totally different kind of life for Polly, the other extreme from what she has known. A few friendships and one or two romantic crushes give Polly's life a semblance of normalcy as she matures to her twenties, but as the novel continues to progress up to the 1980s, two world wars, industrial changes and population growth create chaos even in the rural countryside.

Gardam creates real atmosphere here in both time and place, and rural northeast England becomes almost a character of its own. The novel's realism keeps Polly's story from becoming a romance, however much the reader may empathize with her, and the author's honest feelings for her characters endow the novel with a poignancy that one does not often find elsewhere in Gardam's novels. The Robinson Crusoe leitmotif is well integrated, running throughout the novel over the course of more than eighty years, and it firmly connects all aspects of the novel's long chronology. The novel's final pages, as close to a grand finale as Gardam will probably ever get, will leave a smile on the face of every reader - filled as it is with the dry wit and sense of dramatic irony for which Gardam is so famous, a perfect ending to one of her warmest and most enjoyable novels. Mary Whipple

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Review Details

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4.6 out of 5 stars (12 customer reviews)
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Reviewer

Mary Whipple
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   

Location: New England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 91