When Dinah Jefferies writes about Ceylon, you can smell it and sense it. The blossom, the flowers, the birds, she is excellent at evoking setting. The Sapphire Widow is not her strongest book, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable read. Whatever it may lack in plot – a weakness I think because the main character is the wronged one, rather than with a secret of her own to hide – it is a fascinating glimpse of mid-Thirties Ceylon and a beautiful seaside town.
It is 1936 in Galle on the southernmost tip of Ceylon. Louisa Reeve and her husband Elliot seem to have it all except, after a series of miscarriages, a child. Louisa, who wonders if she will ever be a mother, is often alone as Elliot spends his spare time sailing with friends and on a cinnamon plantation in which he is an investor. But when tragedy hits Louisa discovers Elliot’s life, investments and hobbies were not as he told her. As she deals with one lie after another, Louisa continues to develop Sapphire, the retail emporium originally planned with Elliot and which provides the novel’s title.
Given the title I expected the gemstone business of Louisa’s father, and where Elliot worked, to be prominent in the plot. It is however lightly sketched and I felt rather short-changed. The description of the cinnamon plantation is fascinating though, as is the Galle setting, though at times it felt as if local history was being shoehorned in. Towards the end the plot went a little haywire, not what I was expecting. Frustrating, I was left feeling there was a deeper, more emotional story to be told.
An interesting read but not her finest. If you are new to Dinah Jefferies, start with The Tea Planter’s Wife rather than this.
BUY THE BOOK
If you like this, try these:-
‘Beneath an Indian Sky’ by Renita d’Silva
‘The Gift of Rain’ by Tan Twan Eng
‘Quartet’ by Jean Rhys
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE SAPPHIRE WIDOW by @DinahJefferies #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3xX via @SandraDanby