I’m pleased to be part of the blogtour for The Jeweller by Caryl Lewis today. The book has been translated by Gwen Davies. As well as some brief thoughts, I have an extract from the book to share with you. First of all, here’s what the book is about.
From the back of the book
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…
This is a beautifully written novel and the translation is superb. The language is so poetic, with spirituality and a connection with nature and the natural world woven exquisitely throughout the book.
It’s one of those novels which seems quietly compelling and then something takes you completely by surprise. There are so many fascinating characters from Mari, the jeweller of the title, to fellow market stall holders Mo and Gwyn, to young Dafydd, the son of a friend of Mari’s who passed away in tragic circumstances. They each have their own stories to tell and answers they are seeking from life.
There is a sense too that Mari is always searching for something throughout the story, an element of mystery. What is the treasure she hopes to uncover as she helps clear old houses? With its short chapters, this is a book which is deceptively simple to read but which has much to make sense of and understand. In the book, as in life, all is not neatly resolved and the reader has to make some of their own decisions as to what has come to pass. It is one of those books which I think I would take more from on each re-reading as my understanding deepened.
With jewels playing an central role in the Mari’s life, I cannot help but say that this is a little gem of a book.
Extract from The Jeweller by Caryl Lewis, translated by Gwen Davies
Nanw hadn’t slept for nights on end. Her skin was like parchment and her eyes were wild. Mari had decided to stay at home to look after her, and for once the monkey didn’t resent the change in her routine, laid out as she was in her cage with one arm flopped between the bars. Mari was sure she had a fever, made worse by the unnaturally close weather. Mari had opened the windows and she’d been bathing her in cold wet flannels, but Nanw still stayed torpid, her eyes in pearly stillness now, robbed of their usual mischief. Wait for the temperature to fall: that was all she could do. She peeled off the damp swaddling that had taken on the small body’s heat, plunging it back into cold water. Nanw was shivering as Mari wrung it out with hands ringed red, and rearranged it across the monkey’s back. She’d be better once she’d rested. In such a small frame, a fever was usually short-lived.
The door was wide open, letting the wind in to play among the dresses that were still hanging there. Dafydd had come home after their day at the seaside and gone to sit in the best room where she was sitting now, since it was coolest. Mari gave in to temptation and opened the toy box to take another look at the emerald. It was already incredibly lovely. She’d burnished some of its faces so that from its hearthstone flared a fire of colour. She may as well do a little work while Nanw was napping. Mari’s throat was tight as she adjusted the jewel on the wheel; nothing must be out of synch. The emerald was shaping up: excitement stirred as she settled to work. Mari was aiming for the classic emerald cut. Some jewellers went for a flashier multi-faceted affair but to her mind the traditional one, with its long smooth face, showed up the gem’s colour best. At present the fingerprint was smudged at the stone’s centre so that you could only see it when the light slanted in a certain way. Her job now was to shape the base so that light was directed through the inclusion. Mari was a bundle of nerves.
She cut, she polished, she stuck to it until each surface was perfect. Nothing should obscure the light’s journey through the gemstone. She tipped it, working at all angles to avoid any mistake. This was the most important stone she’d cut, as well as the most expensive. She’d bought it cheaply, most likely because the owner had doubted she could turn it into a valuable jewel. It was warm under her fingertips; she knew every surface like the back of her hand. Mari looked into its interior. The fingerprint too she now knew intimately. The final cuts were so difficult, but Mari felt a great peace as she sensed perfection approaching. The shadow of the cat stalked along the wall and into the bedroom where Nanw was.
At dinnertime Mari got up and stretched, then went into the kitchen to make herself cheese on toast. The lawn and shrubs were turning brown in the terrible heat. A few birds were in the branches, beaks open, gawping at the sun. She drank some tea and went back to work.
She sat down and held up the emerald against the natural light. The scintillating stone threw a green shadow along her face. Mari heard a noise and turned to see Nanw out of the cage and standing in the doorway, eyeing up Mari and the jewel. The green of the emerald flashed in the monkey’s eyes. The stone slipped through Mari’s fingers and onto her lap. She screamed and hid her mouth. Nanw’s teeth were sunk deep into the cat’s neck and its body hung lifeless from the monkey’s jaw, blood dripping onto the lino. Nanw looked up at Mari sitting there, appalled but unable to move. The beast was breathing fiercely and her eyes were dancing.
My thanks to Julia Forster for inviting me to take part in the tour and for providing a review copy of the book. The Jeweller by Caryl Lewis (translated by Gwen Davies) was published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press on 19 September 2019 at £8.99 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.