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The Golden Child

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  608 ratings  ·  94 reviews
Penelope Fitzgerald's novel, The Golden Child, combines a deft comedy of manners with a classic mystery set in London's most refined institution—the museum. When the glittering treasure of ancient Garamantia, the golden child, is delivered to the museum, a web of intrigue tightens around its personnel, especially the hapless museum officer Waring Smith. While prowling the ...more
Paperback, 189 pages
Published September 15th 1999 by Mariner Books (first published 1977)
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Average rating 3.55  · 
Rating details
 ·  608 ratings  ·  94 reviews


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Fionnuala
For a mystery story that was written simply to entertain her terminally ill husband, Penelope Fitzgerald's first novel is better than you might expect. The story is set in the British Museum in the 1970s, but not in the public spaces we are familiar with. Instead, we are taken into the back rooms of the museum, the offices and work spaces and store rooms that the public never sees. The plot, related to an exhibition of a mummified royal child in the style of Tutankhamen, hangs together fairly we ...more
Violet wells
Jun 03, 2020 rated it did not like it
It's always interesting to read a writer's first novel. Usually all the themes and some of the characters of future books are clumsily present in embryo form. And it's not the case to have great expectations. But I've never read a novel by an esteemed author with less artistry than this. It's like she wrote it in a month for either a joke or money. It's a pastiche of the murder mystery genre. To begin with it seems like it might be entertaining. An exhibition of ancient world tomb artefacts with ...more
Jean-Luke
Penelope Fitzgerald writes a whodunit. Except I didn't know it was going to be a whodunit, because having read a fair share of Fitzgerald I figured I knew what to expect and would skip the much despised back cover book summary. The initial chapters reminded me of Mad Men set in a museum, without all the screwing. Maybe more like Desk Set. Reminiscent of Human Voices, but much more tightly plotted, and unlike HV it doesn't constantly refer to people by abbreviations of their positions--DD(S), DDP ...more
Teresa
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you’re old enough, you will remember the King Tut craze. (And the Steve Martin song inspired by it.) I was a junior in high school when we were taken on school buses to stand in line for hours, snapping photos of each other, as well as of a fake pyramid and a painted “Nile River” that wound around the outside of the museum, until we could file past the relics, which I’m guessing we couldn’t take photos of since I have none. The waiting took hours longer than seeing the actual exhibit, but a l ...more
Fiona
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is the second of Fitzgerald's books I've read and I didn't enjoy it any more than the first. To me, she tries to write in a similar style to Jane Gardam but it just doesn't work for me. I forced myself to read more than I wanted to and there's no point in that. This sort of twee English eccentricity just becomes annoying after a while. ...more
Jennifer Kepesh
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think that any absurd book is going to be loved or hated, and I have certainly hated my share of absurd books (notably, A Confederacy of Dunces, and The Sellout, neither of which I could finish because they were far too puerile for me.) Well this book is completely absurd,, and I thought it was hilarious and it endeared me even more to Penelope Fitzgerald. One thing I love about this book is that, in the middle of all its nuttiness, there is the truth of the way that a big museum is--that almo ...more
Ann Herendeen
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-recently
I had not heard of Penelope Fitzgerald (freely confessing my appalling American ignorance here) when I started reading The Golden Child. It took me a while to "understand" what I was reading: the first novel (from 1977) of a Booker Prize-winning novelist. At first it seemed to be an odd, old-fashioned whodunnit. As I read, I began to see a little more of what Fitzgerald was doing--telling a story that has elements of mystery and satire, and presented from the original, idiosyncratic point of vie ...more
Lynda
Mar 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle, fiction
This was Fitzgerald's first novel and it shows, I think. Though many of the hallmarks of her craft are in evidence there is little of the masterly restraint of her more mature novels. Nonetheless there is much to enjoy. The setting is a thinly disguised British Museum which is holding an exhibition of Garamantian artefacts which includes the Golden Child. As the exhibition opens to massive public interest a series of mysterious events begins to unfold. As usual Fitzgerald draws her characters wi ...more
Ali
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I have only read two Penelope Fitzgerald novels before, and both were strange and quirky but enjoyable. Of the three that I have now read, this was definitely my favourite. It is odd and quirky, very funny in parts, and utterly absorbing.

In this story of the exhibtion of The Golden Child - Fitzgerald is poking gentle fun at the world of museum exhibitions. As the characters and situations she has created in this novel are eccentric and often absurd, but entirely delightful for all that. The poor
...more
Mark
Sep 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020-fiction
The Golden Child is a brisk romp through a light mystery/thriller plot with finely-tuned, authentic characters, some of whom admittedly die as the plot thickens. The protagonist is an immediately likable, lower-level worker at the British Museum, Waring Smith, whose life seems driven and shaped by external forces around him, but who does finally rise to a more decisive demeanor when the denouement arrives.

I came to read The Golden Child, Penelope Fitzgerald’s first novel, after already reading s
...more
JacquiWine
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Regular readers of my blog may well be aware of my fondness for the work of Penelope Fitzgerald. I’ve been making my way through her novels, not always in order of publication, over the past few years. The Golden Child (1977) was her first novel, a hugely entertaining tale of internal politics, mystery and mayhem, all set amid the most British of institutions, a prestigious London museum.


The museum in question, a thinly veiled version of the British Museum, is hosting an exhibition of precious t
...more
Kaion
Jul 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor
Utterly, delightfully absurd.
Elizabeth
Mar 24, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Eldonfoil TH*E Whatever Champion
fun premise, but fairly dull; more like a half-baked, mystery-genre fiction than literature; back to Season 8 of Dalziel & Pascoe now.
Leslie
Apr 18, 2017 rated it liked it
An odd little book, about an exhibition at a thinly disguised British Museum. Very much of its time and not without its small pleasures.
Matt Williams
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Golden Child is two novels for the price of one. You have the first novel, a scorching satire of bureaucracy and hierarchy, and the sort of toxic humanity that's the same today as it was when it was written in 1977. It's full of fun jokes, gallows humor, perfectly-captured exasperation, and is really quite well-written. Our protagonist, a hapless minor functionary at a museum exhibiting a King-Tut-inspired exhibition of archaeological finds from a fictional country, is subject to an almost p ...more
Jackie
Feb 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
I skipped lots, it couldn’t keep me interested. Everyone had a stupid name, and I can’t relate to stupid names, so it all seemed a bit put on.....felt like she tried very hard to name everyone oddly. It did have humour and at times it made me smile. I felt it was all absurd.....plus who doesn’t know or think that half the stuff on display in museums are fake ones and replicas?
Thomas
Well ... she got better. Will likely only appeal to the Fitzgerald completist.
Adam Stevenson
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
‘The Golden Child’ was Penelope Fitzgerald’s first book and is unlike all her others. For a start, it has an ending. This is not a spare evocation of time, place and character like her other novels but more a full-throttled comic mystery.

It might be the longest of her novels, weighing in at a whopping two hundred pages, apparently it used to be longer with more sub-plots and characters but her editor advised her to trim it down. As such, it reminds me most of Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteri
...more
Vel Veeter
Jul 14, 2017 rated it liked it
This is not based on the weird ass Eddie Murphy movie from the mid 80s with that weird haunted sword or pipe or whatever it was.

Instead this is a kind of mystery, kind of comedy of manners taking place in a Natural History museum the night before a huge new opening. In this novel, several key figures circulate around the opening of a new exhibit that will introduce the world to the collected findings about an ancient civilization: Garamantia.

It has old burial vessels, pots, a strange hieroglyphi
...more
David
Jan 24, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was quite interesting to read Penelope Fitzgerald's first novel from 1977 having read seven of her later books. Far fetched but fun, a typically short novel that descends into a combination of thriller and farce. A comedy mystery with some good characterisation along the way. The setting is brilliant, a big London museum with all the bitchiness behind the scenes. A big fictional exhibition is taking place in midwinter with thousands turning up to queue in the cold. See what I mean about far f ...more
Tiffany
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book started off a bit slow for me but toward the middle and end the pace picked up significantly and I couldn't put it down. It is my 4th favorite of her novels that I've read. Not because the characters will be particularly memorable for me but because of the overall feeling I sustained while reading it: a sort of pervading bemusement mixed with concern for the put-upon protagonist, and, in the end, a huzzah for his success (of sorts). In the "About the Author" bit at the end of this book ...more
John Purcell
The Golden Child was Booker winner Penelope Fitzgerald's first novel, written in her late fifties to entertain her dying husband. So the story goes. It is a comedy according to the praise on the cover, but don't come looking for laughs. I found it rather tedious and only finished it due to some strange unexplainable desire for closure. Something in the way it was written reminded me of Russell Hoban's Kleinzeit, but sadly not enough to lift it out of the doldrums. First novels often give away se ...more
Ray
Interesting. I felt like the writer was trying to convey some of the fanfare and commercialism of the traveling museum exhibits, such as Tutankhamen. This book, explores through a small golden infant pharoahs and the treasures found in his tomb. When the museum exhibit is loaned to a British museum, murder ensues, and a young in-experienced museum clerk is sent on a mysterious mission to Russia.
It was an entertaining read, but also somewhat informational, because I had never really even though
...more
Sep
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
The plot revolves around (and around) a museum that has on exhibit a long dead royal child and all of his grave goods. The boy's tomb was discovered years earlier and has been in the Garamantian museum ever since. As the story begins it is on loan to a museum that is suspiciously similar to the British Museum in London.

Waring Smith, a young employee, is the most likely hero. It is his adventures the reader tends to follow. Murder and deception are riff.

Written in the in the 1970s, TGC is a joyf
...more
Banbury
Apr 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Perhaps a bit dated, yet this book is so different, so quirky, it is worth reading. It plays on (and with) literary conventions. For example, there is a send-up of the hero's ability to feel the truth of the situation, even before the facts are apparent: "A physical sensation like the thawing of ice, or the melting down of gold, warned him that the worst of his troubles were over." That word "warned" is priceless, especially in a simile about gold. ...more
Sharon
Oct 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
This is the first work of fiction that Penelope Fitzgerald wrote. It's very well written, of course, and a very funny story as well as shining a light on the staff and management behind the scenes of a national museum. I enjoyed it a lot, but I am giving it 4 stars because it isn't quite up there in breath taking quality as some of her others, in my opinion. Anybody considering reading this book shouldn't let this put them off, this is an excellent first book. ...more
Banuta
Jan 23, 2021 rated it liked it
I'm a big P. Fitzgerald fan, but right now I'll say her later work is better. Nevertheless, her ability to create an entire world and stuff it full of whimsy is strongly represented here, with characters named Professor Untermensch and Jones Jones. She also gives a great and accurate glimpse of Soviet Russia. It's the random murders that undermine the story for me; they're not believable and are pure slapstick. ...more
Benjamin Kahn
This book was very enjoyable for the most part, quite amusing, but it took a bit of a serious turn during the climax which gave it a tone quite different than that which Fitzgerald has used throughout. Without that, I would have given it four stars, but I really felt that the way the climax was written was enough at odds with the general feeling of the book that it left me feeling a little disappointed. Generally a very good book, with a disappointing finish.
Bridget Palmer
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Slight, simple, fusty whodunit discovered cleaning out bookshelves. I began reading mistakenly thinking it was going to be a novel about Egypt and kept reading for its quirky English humor skewering over-hyped exhibitions, museum politics, upper class Brits, and FOMO on the part of the museum going public. Best: terribly understated digs. Worst: so much to read, so little time...
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Penelope Fitzgerald was an English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In 2012, The Observer named her final novel, The Blue Flower, as one of "the ten best historical novels".

Fitzgerald was the author of nine novels. Her novel Offshore was the winner of the Booker Prize. A further three novels — The B
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