This is the book I chose to for the ‘precious stone’ category of the whimsical reading challenge:
The Jewel Box tells the story of Grace Rutherford, a copywriter by day and a columnist, known as Diamond Sharp, by night. We see her struggles with balancing her jobs, keeping her secret identity hidden, taking care of her family and trying to find the perfect cocktail (not to mention the perfect man). I think that if the story had been told chronologically I would have detested this protagonist, but the flashbacks to her youth give her much more depth and a history that really tugs at your heartstrings. I still imagine her looking like Velma from Chicago though.
To me the characters seemed very credible, but that could be because they reflect the stereotypical images I have in my head of people from the 1920’s (all gleaned from watching Poirot); we have the eccentric suffragette, the aging flapper, the mysterious American player… I think you could be the most incompetent writer on Earth but if you set your novel in the 1920’s it would still seem glamorous. Fortunately Anna Davis is not the most incompetent on Earth, so she has more to offer than simply the glamour of the age.
There are a couple of themes that recur throughout The Jewel Box that, for me, elevate it from the status of historical chick lit to something much deeper. Most significantly, the woman question; in one household we see a broad spectrum of women in different states of freedom. Catherine, barmy widow and hardcore suffragette; Grace an ‘aging’ single woman who has two careers and has a social life Serena Van Der Woodsen would be jealous of; Nancy, the demure younger sister, stuck in the house with two young children and not even old enough to vote. It’s weird, nowadays we don’t really think anything of popping down the pub, or smoking in public, or having a decent job so I always find it quite bizarre reading about women who couldn’t do any of these things. What’s more bizarre is that they don’t even seem to question this… I have to say though, I took great pride in voting as soon as I was old enough, I’m just glad the age has lowered from 30 to 18!
Now, there are more boyfriend swaps in this book than in an entire season of Gossip Girl but that’s what makes it fun. One of the things I expect from a book is for it to make me think. Even if it’s to think of something as silly as ‘which one will she pick’ or ‘oooh, what if she finds out what they did’. The not knowing, but wanting to know, is what propels you to the end.
I do have one negative thing to say about The Jewel Box. There are little snippets of dialogue that make me visibly cringe… whenever someone says ‘Oh, rather’ instead of ‘Yes’ I want to throw up in my mouth. I know that the author is trying to be authentic to the way people spoke at the time, but I hate it. It’s just a personal thing… the same happened when I read the Famous Five books.
Other than that, it was great fun. It definitely provided me with the respite I’d been craving after all my academic reading. I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys ‘girly’ books, because it is pretty girly, but who cares?!
Enjoy whatever you’re reading this week!