In the best tradition of saga novels The Jeweller’s Wife has at its centre a complex couple, a fabulous house, sumptuous jewellery and enough of those seven vices to keep the momentum turning.
Having opened in Cairo just as the Second World War was going to start young Juliet is in dire need of money and takes her fifteenth birthday present from her father to a jeweller to sell it. Henry Winterton was in the shop looking for rare gems, but he didn’t just walk away with the pearls, he had married nineteen year old Juliet within two weeks and bought her to his home in Essex. Grand Marsh Hall on the edge of the Blackwater salt marshes in Essex, a large home for Juliet to learn new skills as a wife, and before too long a mother, but it doesn’t take long for that old adage ‘marry in haste repent at leisure’ to become increasingly insistent. It’s fair to say Henry Winterton is not an easy man to live with. Fortunately the family jewellery business on London’s best street keeps him busy.
Judith was in a way a woman born before her time, or perhaps a woman who was born before time allowed her to fulfil her personality. With Henry so difficult from the beginning she made friends with her sister-in-law, Helen and as her children grew used her artistic talents for the good of the local school and putting on concerts at the house.
Nearby to the women with their comfortable lifestyle is a young woman who lives in a cottage on one of the islands. Frances has twins and feels like she’s been imprisoned away from her family and friends, she knows why she’s a secret but that doesn’t mean she is happy about it. Frances’s story reminds us of the perils of biology at a time when options were few and reliance on the father of the child to do the right thing was the only way to survive.
Of course in any saga that spans more than thirty years there are gaps in the story as the story is moved forward to take in the younger generations as they also find their own way in life. It is here, as the choices, both good, and bad, of their parents begin to have a real impact and Juliet realises that some of hers are at the heart of the somewhat fracture family.
The setting is superb, the unpredictable water rushing in and out of the salt marshes makes for a treacherous and somewhat bleak landscape, the perfect backdrop for a story which has its fair share of low-points for most of the characters although with some artists in the family the ever-changing tides could provide inspiration.
After a slowish start where the scene was set I was really drawn into this read, following the two generations as they suffered all manner of calamities, especially in the latter chapters which brings the story up to the 1960s and a changing world illustrated by the need of one young mother to work as well as have a child. A world where unlike poor Juliet, it was possible to walk away from a marriage that looked sure to bring nothing but unhappiness.
The writing style seemed a little bit remote at first, describing scenes rather than from the point of view of any particular character, but I realise this is probably because of the numerous books that I now read in the first person present tense and in time got to appreciate the wider viewpoint that this afforded the reader.
This is an enjoyable saga for those readers who want to be absorbed in another world; in fact perfect autumnal reading.
I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for allowing me to read a copy of this book. This honest opinion is my thank you to them.