Mari supplements her modest trade as a market stall holder with the wares she acquires from clearing the houses of the dead. She lives alone in a tiny cottage by the shore, apart from a monkey that she keeps in a cage, surrounding herself with the lives of others, combing through letters she has gleaned, putting up photographs of strangers on her small mantelpiece.
But Mari is looking for something beyond saleable goods for her stall. As she works on cutting a perfect emerald, she inches closer to a discovery that will transform her life and throw her relationships with old friends into relief. To move forward she must shed her life of things past and start again. How she does so is both surprising and shocking…
I would like to thank the author, the publisher and the blog tour organiser for the ARC in return for an honest review.
Honno Press is rapidly becoming one of my favourite independent publishers, not just because they publish female Welsh writers that otherwise might not be published, but because the novels they bring us are stunning pieces of literature.
As is the case with The Jeweller, a beautifully written tale of Mari, whose troubled past has left her wounded and vulnerable.
The things that mark this novel out as exceptional are the characterisation, the story and the glorious writing, which created images in my mind of intense beauty and tenderly wrought emotion.
This is not a book for me primarily about events, it is a tale of human frailty and our ability to rise above all the memories that shape our past, to create a future full of possibilities. Each sentence evokes moments of intense beauty and the language has the lyrical musicality of a song in written form, which floating off the page creates haunting images both fleeting and tender, yet also shocking and unforgettable. Caryl Lewis’s writing is fresh, free from the need to create stories of grandiose events, and able with great skill, to write a story where the tale, the thoughts and feelings of her character Mari, become the bedrock of the story and not its afterthought.
I have always thought that buildings and objects retain an imprint of those that have been part of their history and to see this used with splendid effect in The Jeweller was my very favourite part of this novel. Mari acts like a custodian of items left behind by those that have died, letters, photographs and jewellery. In hiding from her own pain, she seeks to understand the life imbued into these objects by those that once owned them, searching for a connection to her own origins. Yet perversely it is this inability to live in the present, typified by burying herself in the memories of others, that presents the possibility of moving forward.
Mari as a character is a delicious and carefully wrought study of a woman caught up in a maelstrom of memories that haunt her. She is vulnerable and wounded, but to pigeon hole her as such, for me fails to see below the surface of the complex characterisation, to a women capable of shocking and surprising me. Caryl Lewis has written a character that challenged me as a reader, not to assume I knew all of her, until the last word was written, until the story had reached its end. I think she is one of the best female characters I have read about in many years. Taking the journey with Mari as she made discoveries with the power to transform her life was intense and rewarding. It’s a shame it’s over for me and I feel a fierce jealously of those yet to meet her. Mari, like the objects imbued with the essence of those that owned them, has become part of my reading journey.
Special mention must go to Gwen Davies who with great skill has translated this story into English.
You can purchase this novel from Amazon
The Jeweller by Caryl Lewis (translated by Gwen Davies) is published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press on 19 September 2019 at £8.99 https://www.honno.co.uk/catalogue/forthcoming-titles/the-jeweller/
About the author
Caryl Lewis has published eleven Welsh-language books for adults, three novels for young adults and thirteen children’s books. Her novel Martha, Jac a Sianco (Y Lolfa, 2004), won Wales Book of the Year in 2005. Caryl wrote the script for a film based on Martha, Jac a Sianco, which won the Atlantis Prize at the 2009 Moondance Festival. Her television credits include adapting Welsh-language scripts for the acclaimed crime series Y Gwyll / Hinterland.
About the translator
Gwen Davies grew up in a Welsh-speaking family in West Yorkshire. She has translated into English the Welsh-language novels of Caryl Lewis, published as Martha, Jack and Shanco (Parthian, 2007) and The Jeweller and is co-translator, with the author, of Robin Llywelyn’s novel, published as White Star by Parthian in 2003. She is the editor of Sing, Sorrow, Sorrow: Dark and Chilling Tales (Seren, 2010). Gwen has edited the literary journal, New Welsh Review, since 2011. She lives in Aberystwyth with her family.