On the Shelf: Crusoe’s Daughter

bookThis novel isn’t new, but a reprint of British writer Jane Gardam’s “favorite novel” originally published in 1985. My sister lent this novel to me a few months back, and I’m very grateful for it. Missing Bristol and my English friends very much, this novel was the perfect Anglophile fix, and an engrossing read. Set throughout the course of twentieth century England, we meet Polly Flint, our candid, often comical narrator, at the age of six. An orphan, little Polly is sent to live with her two odd aunts in the ‘Yellow House’ in moody Northern England. From this early age and on wards, Polly relies on the novel Robinson Crusoe and depends deeply on Crusoe’s practical stoicism and independence as a compass to navigate the highs and lows of her own life.

Perhaps the subject matter is outwardly simple, but Gardam’s writing and her flesh and blood Polly Flint is alive, dazzling, and immediately lovable. Polly’s impressions on relationships, love and family are humorously sad and despite the eccentric individuals she befriends, and loves, Polly stays rooted to the Yellow House all her life. Even as World War I and II strikes England, Polly watches the world through the windows of the Yellow House, a passive existence until she finds unexpected purpose in middle-age.

Readers will fall in love with Polly as they did with Jane Eyre and Anne Shirley. You will stay surprised by the hand of fate at work in the novel, yet reach the last chapter satisfied—despite the evocative ‘what-ifs’ filling the pages. I loved every bit of this book.


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