I sometimes really like Penelope Fitzgerald novels and sometimes don’t. I didn’t particularly like her Booker Prize winning novel, Offshore, in part because it didn’t feel like an award winning novel in the ways that others from the prize absolutely do. I did however, really love her novel The Bookshop, and liked The Golden Child quite a bit.
Some parts of this novel I like a lot. We are in Italy and dealing with the Ridolfi family, a historically connected Florentine family who, like a lot of aristocrats after WWII, have fallen on hard times. We are treated to a really interesting family history as a kind of prologue, in which one set of ancestors, “midgets” in the words of the author, has a daughter who was also a Little Person, and worked to construct a reality around her for as long as they could about her size by only employing other Little People to live with, teach, and even befriend her, hoping to maintain the illusion that she was no different from any one else for as long as possible. This metaphor, and read through the title of the novel, Innocence, brings us to the modern world in which Chiara, 18 year old daughter, wants to marry the attractive, but significantly older (he’s 30) doctor Salvatore.
We are treated to a comedy of manners as she pursues this relationship while also beginning to understand about love, about sex, about marriage, about finances, and about the world that the sheltered existence she’s been living in their palazzo has been illusory as the family finances have fallen through.