Picks and Pans Review: Crusoe's Daughter

updated 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Jane Gardam

The heroine of this deeply plotted, wonderfully old-fashioned novel is named Polly Flint. Her mother dies and her sea captain father leaves her with a woman who is a drunk. He then takes her to a yellow house on the shore in Northern England where Polly is looked after by her aunts. His ship sinks, and our heroine is an orphan. But Polly is a reader and her favorite book is Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, a character she identifies with completely: "He didn't go mad. He was brave. He was wonderful. He was like women have to be almost always, on an island. Stuck. Imprisoned. The only way to survive it is to say it's God's will." While Polly grows up mostly among adults, the few children she encounters turn up as characters throughout the story. A large number of them die, not through violence, but in sudden swift illnesses that continually change the heroine's circumstances. A handsome, poor, farm-boy poet is killed in France in World War I. Polly loves a quiet Jewish man who marries someone else and then sends Polly his daughters from Germany as World War II begins. New characters are introduced as old ones die off, and the surprises come again and again. This is very much a literary novel that includes a history of the novel form itself, and the heroine very much sees her life in terms of books. The author, wife of a renowned English lawyer, has written other award-winning, fiction. This post-Victorian charmer is an engrossing delight. (Atheneum, $12.95)

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