Critical Context

Critics praised Crusoe’s Daughter as a “fresh, vivid, and novel novel” and labeled it a “subtle English watercolour.” Like Gardam’s other acclaimed works, such as Black Faces, White Faces (1975) and The Pangs of Love (1983), it received an honorable mention in the 1985 Whitbread competition.

Gardam’s novels usually contain a somewhat eccentric and naive narrator who relates her impressions of the adult world. Like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Gardam’s works attempt to re-create the sometimes humorous challenges and confusing sensations of childhood. Because of this youthful point of view, Gardam’s first three books appeared on her publisher’s children’s (or young adult) list, and Gardam was originally regarded as a novelist writing for a juvenile audience. Her later novels, however—and, retrospectively, these three early books as well—have been categorized as adult reading.

Gardam’s fiction has consistently displayed a disciplined but fanciful simplicity of expression. As she did in her earlier novel, God on the Rocks (1979), Gardam employs a terse but subtle writing technique in Crusoe’s Daughter which has prompted critics to label her “the least prolix of authors.” Gardam’s streamlined wording in Crusoe’s Daughter, despite its economy, is never oblique and adequately conveys the dramatic situation to the audience. In fact, Gardam’s brevity often makes the incident appear more humorous and pointed than a longer passage would. For example, consider youthful Polly’s abbreviated account, at the beginning of the novel, of events which prompted her father to visit the yellow house. Without elaboration, she abruptly states, “We were not expected. My father was bringing me to live with my aunts—bleak Miss Mary, gentle Aunt Frances. They were my young mother’s elderly sisters. My mother was dead.”

Largely for Gardam’s succinct and subtle style, Crusoe’s Daughter has been widely acclaimed. As one critic comments, “Jane Gardam has shown herself to be a novelist of rare inventiveness and power.”