Jane Gardam's novel Crusoe's Daughter takes its epigraph from Virginia Woolf's* The Common Reader:
"The pressure of life when one is fending for oneself alone on a desert island is really no laughing matter. It is no crying one either",
and this book is a life story, but both sad and funny, and it's a life in moments, observations, remembered details, 'keys' to a history, each one proffered in sentences which vary from the long to the short, the blunt or the busy, almost like so many pictures hung in a gallery.
Polly Flint, whose story it is, is marooned by family circumstances and fate at Oversands on the north-east coast, and then as she grows up chooses to remain all but cut off, "sitting out" her life at the yellow house, working on her book "clothing [herself] in armour, hiding in a lair, hiding from pain."
I loved so much about it: the many deft word-sketches which speak volumes; the running thread of Crusoe-comparisons with which Jane Gardam treats the themes of loneliness and isolation and the solace to be found in books; the household at Thwaite and Lady Celia with her Tennyson and Lewis Carroll much like Mrs. Fisher in The Enchanted April; the sheer verve of the narrative - there's nothing formulaic about it. It's a story of disappointments, hopes unrealised, expectations never met, but also of consolations of a sort, of pragmatism, of living as best one can. I found it a thoughtful and entertaining book and a heartening one. How about you?
*And Woolf, of course, makes a cameo appearance in the novel.
(For what to eat while reading Crusoe's Daughter click here.)