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Golden Child [Paperback]

Penelope Fitzgerald
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 13 1994
The Golden Child is a classically plotted mystery centred around the arrival of the ‘Golden Child’ at a London museum. Whilst the new exhibit lures thousands of curious spectators, it also becomes th sinister focus in a web of intrigue and murder… The Golden Child shows how Fitzgerald’s distinctive wit and humour, and her sense of the absurd, were present at thevery beginning of her career. It shows, as always, how acutely perceptive of human nature she is, how understanding and how forgiving. It is also, perhaps more than any other of her books, a minor comic masterpiece.

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From Amazon

Penelope Fitzgerald's first novel is packed with institutional follies and fiercely territorial old trouts. Set in a London museum whose officers only appear august, The Golden Child literally proves that authorities are clowns and clowns authorities. As the book opens, all England is queuing up to see the golden treasure of the Garamantes--the remains of a young king who was interred complete with a trove of toys and goodies. Only the man who unearthed the kinglet back in 1913 refuses to go anywhere near the exhibit, despite his constant proximity: "Sir William, in extreme but clear-headed old age, and after a lifetime of fieldwork, had come to roost in the Museum itself." Meanwhile, everyone--from nations to corporations--wants a piece of the Golden Child. (The exhibit is even underwritten by a company that hopes its puff, "Silence is Golden," will give its cigarettes more positive associations.) What, then, if the relics are cursed--or fake?

As both possibilities grow increasingly likely, and the Museum risks ridicule, its director deputizes Waring Smith to transport the mummy's doll to an incorruptible expert. Too bad if Professor Semyonov is in Russia: this junior officer will simply have to smuggle the toy in! Suffice it to say that Waring's covert odyssey to Moscow is but one of The Golden Child's many witty--and enigmatic--episodes. Near the Kremlin, he comes upon a line that makes him think he's back at work. The citizens, though, have assembled for another mummy altogether:

The park statues were covered with shrouds of straw to protect them against the cold, but the human beings stood there, wiping the frozen drops from noses and eyelashes, waiting with immemorial patience to see what they had been told was worth seeing. In an hour and a half they would be filing past the embalmed head and hands, and the ghastly evening dress suit, of Lenin.
On the surface, Fitzgerald's 1977 novel is a bona fide mystery, complete with a body in the library and a spot of garroting. But adepts of this author will prize it for its pixilated cast of characters and for its gentle, perfect assaults on pretension--whether academic, journalistic, or even gustatory. As ever, Fitzgerald is drawn to explore the power--and sheer inconvenience--of the emotions. No wonder The Golden Child's mysteries go so far beyond those of its genre. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

'Reading a Penelope Fitzgerald novel is like being taken for a ride in a peculiar kind of car. Everything is of top quality - the engine, the coachwork and the interior all fill you with confidence. Then, after a mile or so, someone throws the steering-wheel out of the window.' Sebastian Faulks 'Wise and ironic, funny and humane, Fitzgerald is a wonderful, wonderful writer.' David Nicholls 'The Golden Child is rich in the qualities which have marked Fitzgerald's subsequent career; a pleasantly uncluttered prose style; an eye for the absurd and pretentious; the knack of being able to give comedy an undertow of menace. Most museums take themselves too seriously: here is the perfect riposte.' Sunday Telegraph 'Penelope Fitzgerald combines some gentle mockery of museum bureaucracy and procedures and some sharp parodies - of memos, structuralist lectures, children's essays and committee jargon - with a more serious view of the responsibilities of museums. She shows culture off-handedly inflicted by curators on a patient, suffering public, who are depicted as endlessly queuing and being systematically denied information and tea.' TLS 'Penelope Fitzgerald's first novel degenerates amusingly into tortuous espionage, giving hints of the wit and wisdom to come in her later award-winning books.' Mail on Sunday

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I�m sorry she waited until 69 Oct. 10 2000
Format:Paperback
This lady was truly an amazing writer. She started her career at the age of 69, and happily produced a good-sized body of work. "The Golden Child" is the third work of hers that I have read. It's a wonderful book, as I have yet to read anything other from her pen, but it is as different from the other two, as they are from each other.
"The Bookshop" was quite serious, "The Blue Flower" a wonderful historic piece during the period of Goethe's Germany, and now this work which demonstrates her unconstrained wit. She still includes subtle bits of humor, but much is laugh out loud funny. Granted some is a bit dark, but as another reviewer mentioned, it is very "English" as in, "oh...that, well yes, bullet wound you see, no bother, terribly sorry about the carpet". That line is not specifically in the book, but I hope it gives an idea of the fun within "The Golden Child".
The story is populated with great characters; including two of the best curmudgeons I have enjoyed reading. At one point she goes well onto a limb with a performance by one of the Museum's top executives, who is called upon to "lecture" about that which he knows little of. The performance approaches Monty Python humor.
A third book, and a third great read. I look forward to seeing how many other genres she must have handled so well.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars funny as only the English can be July 25 2000
Format:Paperback
Don't expect a mindbending Agatha Christie novel when you pick up Fitzgerald's first novel -- it's much more of a British farce making fun of the stuffy art critic world, the English in general (the main character has to deal with his wife Haggie who finds him uninspiring and boring) and anything to do with pretension. The whole premise of the novel is funny: people are queueing for days in the cold for this incredible exhibition of the so called Golden Child, but it turns out to be a fake. At one point, the main character is strangled by the "golden thread" that is supposedly a key part of the exhibit. There is a superb scene when the main character actually is trying to kill time to avoid his wife and decides to stand on line to see the exhibit for himself. He develops a feeling of solidarity with the people in line who share war stories about their wait to see the statue for the brief 20 seconds they are allotted. Fitzgerald captures perfectly this "fan mania" that anyone who has ever lined up for an event will enjoy reading. He chickens out right before actually seeing the exhibit and never makes it. The mystery part of the book is not that great, but the hilarious characters and dry satire make it an enjoyable read.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Satire at its best Oct. 16 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The English museum is proud of its Winter Exhibition of the GOLDEN CHILD. All students know that the collection comes from the Garamantian, African people who lived in 449 BC. In 1913, Sir William Simkin found the treasure. Though he lives nearby, William seems to be the only person in the country refusing to visit the exhibit, as he apparently fears its' so-called curse. Many foreign visitors plan to travel to England for the display. Other experts insist the treasure is a fake. Is it real or is it a hoax? Is it truly cursed or is its finder senile?
Suddenly, the museum seems primed for scorn as if they hung a Pollack upside down. The director sends Waring Smith to Moscow to have Professor Semyonov authenticate the showcase item. In Russia, he observes long lines waiting for the unveiling of a mummified Lenin that leaves Waring wary about his fellow man.
THE GOLDEN CHILD is a reprint of Penelope Fitzgerald's satirical look at the world of art and people in general. Though in many ways the story line is a typical British mystery, the plot contains much more humor as it laughs at institutions including the typical British mystery. Fans who relish gentle ripping at the guts of the sanctimonious pillars of society will fully enjoy this novel. Houghton Mifflin in their Mariner line is reprinting many of Ms. Fitgerald's other books.
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Paperback
Fitzgerald's great strengths were already visible in this, her first novel: a wide range of deftly sketeched characters and an ability to make a particular institutional milieu comprehensible. Here it is the British Museum.

The attempted "thriller" part is entertaining, and involves a hilarious visit to the Soviet Union for the novel's hero. The murder mystery is, perhaps, the least interesting of the mysteries in the book, and Fitzgerald was wise to abandon trying to be a genre novelist. Better to show the clashings of incompatible ways of being and doing. But the generic parts are fairly entertaining, and the compassion of the novelist for the butterflies she pins to the page is palpable already in her first novel.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Satire at its best Oct. 16 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The English museum is proud of its Winter Exhibition of the GOLDEN CHILD. All students know that the collection comes from the Garamantian, African people who lived in 449 BC. In 1913, Sir William Simkin found the treasure. Though he lives nearby, William seems to be the only person in the country refusing to visit the exhibit, as he apparently fears its' so-called curse. Many foreign visitors plan to travel to England for the display. Other experts insist the treasure is a fake. Is it real or is it a hoax? Is it truly cursed or is its finder senile?
Suddenly, the museum seems primed for scorn as if they hung a Pollack upside down. The director sends Waring Smith to Moscow to have Professor Semyonov authenticate the showcase item. In Russia, he observes long lines waiting for the unveiling of a mummified Lenin that leaves Waring wary about his fellow man.
THE GOLDEN CHILD is a reprint of Penelope Fitzgerald's satirical look at the world of art and people in general. Though in many ways the story line is a typical British mystery, the plot contains much more humor as it laughs at institutions including the typical British mystery. Fans who relish gentle ripping at the guts of the sanctimonious pillars of society will fully enjoy this novel. Houghton Mifflin in their Mariner line is reprinting many of Ms. Fitgerald's other books.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I�m sorry she waited until 69 Oct. 10 2000
By taking a rest - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This lady was truly an amazing writer. She started her career at the age of 69, and happily produced a good-sized body of work. "The Golden Child" is the third work of hers that I have read. It's a wonderful book, as I have yet to read anything other from her pen, but it is as different from the other two, as they are from each other.
"The Bookshop" was quite serious, "The Blue Flower" a wonderful historic piece during the period of Goethe's Germany, and now this work which demonstrates her unconstrained wit. She still includes subtle bits of humor, but much is laugh out loud funny. Granted some is a bit dark, but as another reviewer mentioned, it is very "English" as in, "oh...that, well yes, bullet wound you see, no bother, terribly sorry about the carpet". That line is not specifically in the book, but I hope it gives an idea of the fun within "The Golden Child".
The story is populated with great characters; including two of the best curmudgeons I have enjoyed reading. At one point she goes well onto a limb with a performance by one of the Museum's top executives, who is called upon to "lecture" about that which he knows little of. The performance approaches Monty Python humor.
A third book, and a third great read. I look forward to seeing how many other genres she must have handled so well.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars funny as only the English can be July 25 2000
By M. H. Bayliss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Don't expect a mindbending Agatha Christie novel when you pick up Fitzgerald's first novel -- it's much more of a British farce making fun of the stuffy art critic world, the English in general (the main character has to deal with his wife Haggie who finds him uninspiring and boring) and anything to do with pretension. The whole premise of the novel is funny: people are queueing for days in the cold for this incredible exhibition of the so called Golden Child, but it turns out to be a fake. At one point, the main character is strangled by the "golden thread" that is supposedly a key part of the exhibit. There is a superb scene when the main character actually is trying to kill time to avoid his wife and decides to stand on line to see the exhibit for himself. He develops a feeling of solidarity with the people in line who share war stories about their wait to see the statue for the brief 20 seconds they are allotted. Fitzgerald captures perfectly this "fan mania" that anyone who has ever lined up for an event will enjoy reading. He chickens out right before actually seeing the exhibit and never makes it. The mystery part of the book is not that great, but the hilarious characters and dry satire make it an enjoyable read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertainment with profound sympathy for eccentric cast June 10 2000
By Stephen O. Murray - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Fitzgerald's great strengths were already visible in this, her first novel: a wide range of deftly sketeched characters and an ability to make a particular institutional milieu comprehensible. Here it is the British Museum.

The attempted "thriller" part is entertaining, and involves a hilarious visit to the Soviet Union for the novel's hero. The murder mystery is, perhaps, the least interesting of the mysteries in the book, and Fitzgerald was wise to abandon trying to be a genre novelist. Better to show the clashings of incompatible ways of being and doing. But the generic parts are fairly entertaining, and the compassion of the novelist for the butterflies she pins to the page is palpable already in her first novel.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pomposity wickedly and delightfully deflated July 6 2007
By Cinda Cyrus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Though some call this a classic British murder mystery, I think it more accurate to describe it as a pin deftly pricking and deflating the balloon of pomposity, specifically that of the oxygen-deprived worlds of museum bureaucracy, fierce curatorial turf wars, art critics, and other professional snobs. The book is British to the core---wry, deft, and wickedly observant.

The golden child of the title is the name of an exhibit at a hallowed London museum, an exhibit of a mummified child and the golden toys buried with him in a fictional African country. All England is abuzz with excitement over this first exhibition of this boy king and his grave goods. But the tottering old head of the museum who excavated the grave in 1913 refuses to go downstairs to even see his fabled find. And thereby hangs the mystery.

A delightful and quick read, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, laughing out loud at regular intervals. The pleasure engendered certainly outweighs a few hinky plot devices. I call this book a romp.
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