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I'm not sure what it was about this book that I loved so. I'm sure that the "books threads" helped, and I was glad that I had read Robinson Crusoe (aloud to my son years ago, not an easy feat.) You don't have to have read it, but familiarity with the story helps-having read it means that you will recognize the parts she is talking about and why. I agree with the description that it is a "thoughtful book," I think that I need more of those. Five stars on Goodreads for me. I am also planning on checking out more of her books.


I've been struggling with this and have to confess I haven't finished it yet but I will. I think I must let myself fall into her way of writing, stop battling with it and appreciate what you rightly call her "word sketches". Although I can appreciate she's writing well, the narrative flow I've been waiting for isn't going to come is it. Anyway, now I know I've Virgnia to encounter that spurs me on!


I also really enjoyed Crusoe’s Daughter. I have not read Robinson Crusoe, so I am intrigued by Laura’s comment above that familiarity with the Stevenson book adds an extra layer to the Gardam novel. I have Old Filth on my TBR since I heard a number of glowing reviews from various bloggers a couple of years ago. I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. But I need to obviously move it up in the pile because I was very impressed with the writing and the story telling in Crusoe’s daughter. In some ways, the story was Dickensian, but at a quarter of the length of a typical Victorian novel! I agree also with Cornflower that it was both moving and funny and was also a bit reminded in Lady Celia of Mrs. Fischer from The Enchanted April.

One particular bit I found very thoughtful and thought provoking, was part of Polly’s ambitious lesson plan as she is approaching the boy’s school to teach her first class. She thinks “Every serious novel must in some degree and unnoticeably carry the form further. Novel must be ‘novel’. To survive – like the blob in the ocean, the seed, it must hold in itself some fibrous strength, some seemingly preposterous new quality, catch some unnoticed angle of light-and unselfconsciously. It may fail- but better to be sorry than safe. All the time it must entertain. No polemics. No camouflaged sermons.”

What did the others think about the dialogue at the very end? That was the only bit that I didn’t love. It was a bit startling.


No I did not enjoy it if I am being honest. I found it tedious and uninteresting!
On page 207 out of 309 pages in my book comes the following quote, ' for years of our life the days pass waywardly, without meaning, without particular happiness, or unhappiness. Then like turning over a tapestry that you have only known the back of, there is spread the pattern.'
For me change the words years into pages and our into Polly's and that describes the book for me. The 'pattern' when it did emerge was colourless too.
Yes there were some gems of observation, my favourite 'frilly edged teeth' but the final quote from the last act chapter of 'novels aren't exciting now , just writers rambling on' sums this book up nicely.

Dark Puss

I agree completely with you about the very end!

Dark Puss

My view (and I apologise for missing at least the last two CBG books) lies between Cornflower's and Jenny. I read it fairly rapidly so undoubtedly for that and my own lack of literary expertise I will have missed out somewhat on the "word-sketches", but I didn't find it tedious. I thought it interesting that Polly endlessly runs away from "fun" when ever she's given the opportunity and although she clearly gets a great deal of both pleasure and solace from reading I felt they acted as an addictive drug that in the end almost destroys her. The part where I think I began to enjoy the book a little less was the miraculous conversion to star teacher and the (almost) happy ever after ending which jarred a little with the darkness befalling late 30's Europe. There was certainly some good writing and it held my attention (not that I would have given up on it). I think some of the men in it were written in a rather stylised way and I liked some of the humour and the melancholy of the marsh evaporating slowly in the advance of the town. Loved Polly and Alice fighting over who would re-read Fanny Hill first! I thought there were some rather too convenient deaths for my liking however.

Susan in TX

I'm with Jenny on this one, and I even used the same quote in my own summary, "novels aren't exciting now...". That said, I found myself compelled to keep turning pages and never considered abandoning it, even though I would not have said at any point that I found it 'enjoyable' reading. When I first started reading, I was a little put off by the fact that it didn't have any chapter breaks (not sure why that bugged me so much). By the end of the book, it seemed as if the lack of chapter breaks fit nicely with her own quote on novels' "writers rambling on." While I always enjoy reading authors I wouldn't have otherwise heard of, I'm not sure I'll seek out another Gardam.


Cornflower, I haven't commented on this site before but I love Jane Gardham's books and I thought I'd join in on this one if that's OK. Not having read Robinson Crusoe (I intend to emend that) I think I probably missed a lot of the nuances in this one but I loved Polly Flint and her struggles to experience fully the essential loneliness of life and love. For me the most important thing about the book was the central concept (p186 in my copy) of Robinson Crusoe as 'spiritual biography... not.. fiction but... metaphysical landscape'. I think that that's how Jane G intended this book too. And I loved the nearly last sentence, the summing up 'As a life, not bad. Marooned of course. But there's something to be said for islands.' Thank you for jogging me to reread this. I'm now about to read RC plus a biography of Defoe. He was an interesting man I think and himself marooned in a time that he found hostile and difficult.

Madame Là-Bas

I felt that Polly Flint was a resilient character being left with the aunties and the caretakers and living through struggles and disappointments of life. I haven't read the original Robinson Crusoe so I probably lost some of the references. I did find the last dialogue in the book a little confusing.


I am glad that I wasn't the only one that missed the chapter breaks and I also found the end of the book confusing too. I agree with Joan about the atmosphere of the book - the metaphysical landscape, it was uncanny how you felt Polly's loneliness, her social awkwardness and disappointments, all by the marshes and seashore.


As Ruthiella wrote, the class that Polly presents on literature is fascinating . it was the aha moment for me, Gardam's strong hint that this is the function of her novel, to play with the form to make it indeed" novel".
It really fell into place for me there, it is a delight and quite a literary gambol, so layered with its levels of allusion and the centrality of the canonic Robinson Crusoe. She plays with form and with gender as well as with literary figures as she takes us through a 20 th century life span, historic references and all

A most stimulating choice, Cornflower, challenging me to stay with quite a dense literary puzzle and emerge most satisfied and looking for more reading. it does indeed as many have said here, make you want to search out Robinson Crusoe and all of Gardam's works.

Carol Norton

This was a re read for me, having read it many years ago, but I really enjoyed it. I've read a lot of Jane Gardam, most recently the whole Old Filth trilogy, revisiting the first two when the final one came out. Once I settle to it, I love her spiky style and her humour, which is here in abundance. It's full of allusions and would benefit from a slow reflective read, which I never have time for, but particularly liked the marsh retreating as the century encroached. She's a great player with names as well, here and in her other work.
Thanks for choosing this one Cornflower, it would still be on my shelf otherwise.

Barbara MacLeod

I found the book unsatisfying on two counts: Voice and Credibility.

[1] Credibility:
What started out as an imaginative idea of a girl living her life very much influenced by a character from a novel dissipated into a meandering tale of an unfulfilled life. To me Crusoe’s story was about resourcefulness, not about someone who lives a life of “I just let them get on with it” while she sits at her desk.

The story was a bit like those Russian dolls, i.e one doll stacked inside another inside another. Here we have a novelist whose main character in the novel is a person who writes ... whose life is lived through the main character in a novel.

Polly's character was believable enough. The phenomenon of people earnestly believing in fictional characters or story lines is well known as we have seen in the writing of Dickens or Arthur Conan Doyle, and, of course, TV soaps.

I think if the story had started by saying we were going to NeverNeverLand I would have got on better! Joan mentions the “metaphorical landscape”. Not sure I know what that means ... to me either the story is believable or it isn’t.

[2] Voice:
Good story tellers don’t let their voice get in the way of the story.

I just wish the author would let the character get on with their life and leave out “the role of the novelist” commentary. ( I have now started The Shooting Party: déjà vu.)


It's difficult to say what my impression about this book is. I kept struggling to figure out what this story was all about, and I'm still not sure about it. But the feeling when finishing the book wasn't bad at all. I was quite happy to have read it.

While reading, I couldn't help feeling that Polly was wasting or sacrificing her prime. At the very end, however, reading the line in the dialogue that Joan quotes ( 'As a life, not bad...') I was relieved to know that Polly was content with her life.With no regrets, self-pitiness, or blame she had accepted her whole life for what it was. Yes, marooned indeed but still a meaningful life.

I have a copy of 'Robinson Crusoe' unread in my bookshelf, maybe it's time to read it to find out what's so special about him, special enough for a girl to dedicate her whole life.


Barbara, I think that what Jane Gardam meant by 'spiritual biography' and 'metaphysical landscape' is what she sees as the attempt by Defoe to convey that however busy or purposeful or 'resourceful' our outer lives might be, inside, in our deepest selves we are essentially, unless we're very lucky, alone. As Robinson C was, as Polly was. And we all have to find our own ways of dealing with that aloneness, that separateness. We're nearly all more or less 'marooned' I think. I don't think books need necessarily be 'believable' on a literal level but they're better books if they convey something true and real about the human condition. And I think this one did. Or at least tried to. I think. I don't know. But anyway, I liked it.

Jane Gardam appears to enjoy creating eccentric characters who, unsurprisingly, seem rather detached from real life. Polly Flint is no exception and her identification with Crusoe adds to this sense of isolation. As pointed out by Barbara, she fails to develop any survival skills or demonstrate anything other than apathy, allowing others to organise her life and bring about change. Even her Victorian maiden aunts seem braver and more capable!

Polly seems to have very limited conversation, resorting to 'Yes, I see' whenever she is spoken to. The men her life are dismissed as 'duds', yet they have more enthusiasm and promise than she does.To be blunt, Polly is a bore. What a pity she did not fixate on Moll Flanders instead.

I do find Gardam's writing to be beautifully evocative and could picture the landscape and characters with ease. The main flaw seems to be the general lack of momentum and a plot which chugs along slowly rather than unfolds deliberately.


I enjoyed the story and found it amazing how cut off one could get at that time. We take news and communication so much for granted. Polly had to cope so much with not knowing.


Cornflower, I so want to read this book and am wishing and hoping that my public library will eventually see the light and purchase a copy! Until then...


I want to come back to this and take the discussion a little further if I can, but for now I'll just say thank you for such interesting comments! Lovely to hear everyone's views, and which aspects of the book worked for you and which didn't.

Susie Vereker

Yes, loved the characters and descriptions of the landscape, but, for me, the plot petered out. JG was inspired apparently by her mother and the restricted lives of women of her class in those days, marooned by propriety.


I can't say that this is my favourite of Jane Gardam's books as I felt it was a bit patchy - some bits I loved and others felt a bit tiresome so for me it was a curate's egg of a book.
I did get the Robinson Crusoe related bits but that had more to do with having watched the 1960's French TV series when I was growing up than reading the book: it was one of my Dad's favourite books and I have tried to read his well-read copy but after failing a couple of times I suspect I might need a copy with notes to get the most out of it.
As a quirky footnote, Polly's great grandmother and one of my great-aunts share a name - Gertrude Younghusband. Auntie Gertie married a nephew of the Victorian explorer and mystic Francis Younghusband and went from being the daughter of a working class family to becoming a lady of leisure who stayed in luxury hotels all over Britain and Europe, taking her Persian cats with her, and travelled on the Orient Express and Nile cruise ships at the same period as Agatha Christie's characters.

Susie Vereker

is a link to an interesting Guardian interview with JG. If link doesn't work you can google Jane Gardham Crusoe's daughter.

Susie Vereker

I tried to post a link about an interesting Guardian interview with Jane Gardam, but perhaps links aren't allowed. You can google Jane Gardam and Crusoe's Daughter to find it.


Now Auntie Gertie's life story would have been really worth reading about I think!

Dark Puss

This one? Susie?

Susie Vereker

That's it. Thanks, DP.

Mr Cornflower

Two points I share with you, Liz. One, the patchiness of the book - I did feel that it was a rather uneven performance, with some very good bits - the evocation of the landscape both in itself and as a metaphor for isolation, some of the characterisation (Mr Thwaite for example), but others felt whimsical or forced (the final dialogue). Two, more trivially, I too absolutely loved the 1960s French television series of Robinson Crusoe - I can still in my mind hear the theme tune and see the opening credits with the wave flowing over the sand.


I have thought of it, Jenny and I am sure that she would approve. I just need to convince myself that I could do justice to her and I am aware that there is a lot I don't know so it would have to be heavily fictionalised!

Although she was very old when I knew her, she was a really lovely lady - funny, lively and young at heart.


I can hear it now!
Going to have to see if I can find a copy somewhere!

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