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Likely Stories -- The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

In my distant past, I had an affair with archaeology.  I read of all the tombs and digs.  Recently, I came across The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald.  According to the paperback cover, she is one of England’s most celebrated contemporary writers with scads of short novels.  She died in 2000.

The story begins when an ancient, gold-covered corpse of the African ruler of the Garamantia arrives at a London Museum. It “instantly becomes the sinister focus of a web of intrigue spun by all manner of museum personal” (Jacket).  Three characters are prominent: the archaeologist, a scruffy guard, and a junior office in the museum.  This is satire of the first order.

Penelope wrote, “The enormous building waited as though braced to defend itself, standing back resolutely from its great courtyard under a frozen January sky, colorless, leafless, and pigeonless.  The courtyard was entirely filled with people.  A restrained noise rose from them, like the grinding of the sea at slack water.  They made slight surges forward, then back, but always gaining an inch. // Inside the building the Deputy Director, Security, reviewed the disposition of his forces.  The duties that led to congratulations and overtime had always in the past been strictly allocated by seniority, as some of the older ones were still, for the hundredth time, pointing out, grumbling that they were not to the fore.  ‘This is the time when we may need force,’ the DD9S) replied patiently.  ‘Experience, too, of course,’ he added conciliatingly” (7).

The Golden Child was believed to be prices less, and all sorts of precautions were suggested.  Penelope wrote, “‘Slight accidents, fainting, trampling under foot—the emergency First Aid posts are indicated in your orders for the day; complaints, show sympathy; disorder, contain; increased disorder, communicate directly with my office; wild disorder, the police to be avoided if at all possible.  Crash barriers to be kept in place at all entries at all times.  No lingering’” (7).  This display is evident of that famous “stiff upper lip.”

Penelope describes the past resident of the tomb, she wrote, “Of the Garamantes Herodotus tells us that they lived in the interior of Africa, near the oases in the heart of the Sahara, and that ‘their language bears no resemblance to that of any other nation, for it is like the screeching of bats.’  Twice a year when the caravans of salt arrived from the north, it was their custom to creep out without being seen and to leave gold in exchange for the salt, for which they had a craving; if it was not accepted, they would put out more gold in the night, but still without allowing themselves to be seen” (10).

All in all, Penelope Fitzgerald’s pleasant and funny story of The Golden Child only requires a trip through dry British humor.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production or KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.