Grace Rutherford loves living in 1920's London. She's got a good job in advertising, and has a column in a great newspaper writing under the pseudonym of Diamond Sharp which tells ladies in London of the best places to go and the in-fashion haircuts to have too... a 1920's 'IT' girl if you will. Grace meets famous writer Dexter O'Connell and begins a passionate affair with him, swept up with the romance and excitement of the moment, and the pair have fun. But when Grace is introduced to her sister Nancy's new friend John Cramer, Grace begins to find herself having feelings for him too even though she knows her sister adores him. As she woos both men, she finds they are bitter enemies but it isn't clear why. Can Grace discover the truth behind the animosity and will she be able be to choose between Dexter and John once and for all?
When I first saw this book, I adored the cover with its blue theme and foil highlights but I wasn't sure the story was my cup of tea. I'm not overly keen on books set in anything but a modern time, but I was really determined to give this a go as it sounded so interesting, and I am really glad I did because I think this is a real gem of a story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. This is author Anna Davis' 5th novel - Anna used to work as a columnist for The Guardian newspaper and at a literary agency as well, so she has plenty of experience with writing and this really shows throughout the book.
It begins with the newspaper column of Grace's alter-ego Diamond Sharp and I really loved reading these. They appear every-so-often in the book and are a real look into the nightclub and dancing scene of the 1920's as spoken through the words of Diamond. Davis really allows the character of Grace aka Diamond to let go in these columns, and they are funny to read, light-hearted but perfectly capture the time period in which they are set as well. It's interesting also how easy it is to differentiate between Grace and Diamond and this made me want more and more of the columns as the book progressed. Grace herself though was a wonderful character, very complex and constantly changing, and I found myself sympathising for her circumstances even though she brings most of it on herself!
The male characters of Dexter and John were both very interesting and seemed perfect for 1920's gentlemen. I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview with Anna Davis and she said to me that both male characters are based on author F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I can see that without a doubt! When I was reading it, they reminded me somewhat of Gatsby from Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby which I adore, and I just think these men are perfect characters! Dexter is immensely dislikeable, treating women badly and acting the cad with John as his polar opposite but this makes them both work. The puzzling story between the pair slowly unfolds as well and had me hooked throughout the book.
What I really loved about this book was the way in which it captures the life of 1920's people in London so perfectly. We see Grace struggle in her copywriter job because she's a woman, get frowned upon because she loves to go dancing and date men, and its refreshing to see her break the mould in this book. Grace's sister Nancy seems to fit the stereotypical image of a 1920's housewife perfectly, and I found seeing Nancy grow as the book goes on was very intriguing. The book travels around a lot, and Davis has obviously done her research thoroughly with this book because I felt like when I was reading it I was in the 1920's alongside Grace and co!
Although I hadn't expected this book to my sort of thing at all, I thoroughly enjoyed every page. This just goes to show that you should always give things a chance even when you don't expect to like them, but I do suspect that the gorgeous foil-designed cover helped in making me want to read it! It's a great cast of characters, a slowly unfolding story that will keep you guessing and on your toes as it goes on, and most of all you just want things to work out for the lovely Grace. Diamond Sharp is also a great creation for the book and her newspaper columns were one of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me. I'd highly recommend it, it's a fab book of historical based fiction and I look forward to reading more of Anna Davis' work.
ISBN: 978-0552773393. Published by Black Swan in November 2009. Pages: 432. RRP: £7.99
Thanks to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thanks for reading.
The Jewel Box is one of the books that was chosen for the Tesco monthly book club. As such, certain editions to the book have added extras such as interviews and background information about the setting of the novel.
Set in 1920's London, it tells the story of Grace Rutherford who has an alterego as Diamond Sharp, a gossip columnist who writes for a highly regarded newspaper in which she recounts all of the new bars and events that she attends in the newly hedonistic and wealthy pro-war era.
At home, however, the shine of her alternative life is very much faded. She lives with her mother and younger sister Nancy and her two children, both widowed and shadowed in tragedy as a result of the First World War. Whilst devoted to her family, Grace also has a number of skeletons in her closet as a result of her and her sister's lovelives having been hopelessly entangled with a set of brothers, the truth of which is unravelled during the course of the story.
Further to this, Grace obtains the attentions of a handsome and glamorous American author, Dexter O'Connell who has written the seminal novel of the age - 'The Vision'. However, O'Connell's life is also somehow entwined with her neighbour John Cramer as a result of the novel which Grace has spent her adult life being obsessed and inspired by. There is a great deal of resentment between the two men, not least as Grace finds herself involved with the both of them, complicated by the burgeoning relationship between Cramer and Nancy.
On a superficial level, this is quite an interesting novel - due to the fact that it is not a time that is widely written about in this way, particularly not from an English standpoint. The era is described well, and the atmosphere of the various social 'hotspots' that Grace visits and the fashion statements she endorses are evocatively detailed. She is also a largely sympathetic and complex character, torn between the superficial glamour of her assumed lifestyle and the betrayal and sadness which awaits her at home.
The discussions about those lost in the First World War are surprisingly touching, as are her reminiscences of a better time when the family still had the men that they loved with them.
Beyond this, however, this is not a massive amount of depth. Very often it hints at a stronger literary basis and there are lots of shades of the life of F.Scott Fitzgerald and his turbulent personal life. As such, it is almost stuck between two stools - not substantial enough to be memorable or taken particularly seriously , but too baggy and aspirational to be fully a successful part of the 'chick lit' genre.
That said, it is a pleasant enough read and Davis is a more than competent writer. The dialogue and character development are well considered and the story, whilst largely predictable, still contains enough intrigue to keep you reading . It also made me think a lot about the nature of gossip columnist writing at the time it was set and compare it to our new columnist and blogging culture.
In conclusion, this is a fine, enjoyable novel if not particularly dynamic or gripping.