The Jeweller by Caryl Lewis. Translator: Gwen Davies
With The Jeweller award-winning author Caryl Lewis has created a gem of a novel about the despair and longing of a solitary woman.
Mari lives in a small cottage on the edge of a West Wales seaside town, alone but for her pet monkey and photographs of strangers. By day she operates a market stall selling vintage clothing and jewellery collected by clearing the houses of the dead. By night she works on shaping and polishing an emerald so its rare ‘fingerprint’ can be revealed.
In the midst of velvety green was a fingerprint – a bubble of air in a perfect pattern. …. A blooming foliage they called “garden” is quite common in an emerald but a single fingerprint is rare. The inclusion would make the gem easy to break but so lovely if she managed to cut it right.
As she searches for the inner beauty of her gem, Mari also searches for answers about her past. What she eventually discovers transforms her outlook on life and her relationships with the market stall holders who are her only friends. But the journey to a new life requires the loss of the old one, including the pet whose presence has sustained her through her darkest moments.
I loved the way Caryl Lewis shows the close bond between Mari and Nanw, her monkey. Nanw regularly misbehaves, throwing all her toys out of the cage, and driving Mari to distraction with her constant demands for attention. But then when night falls, and it’s just the two of them in the cottage, there is comfort in the monkey’s presence.
Mari lay back on the bed with a happy Nanw, nosetip touching nose, one gaze wrapped in the other’s as though it were a gift shared. Leathery hands combing human hair, both close to sleep.
Nanw’s decline and the effect it has on Mari is a deeply moving and almost mythical episode in the novel. I understood that it marked a watershed in Mari’s life, and that she could not move forward until this part of her life came to an end. And yet I was so rooted in this relationship that a large part of me felt the wrench when it came to an end.
This was the first novel by Caryl Lewis that I’ve read. It captured my attention immediately because Mari is such a richly complex and engaging character. She tries to give this impression that she has everything in her life under control but it’s all a front. She is in reality a desperately sad and vulnerable woman. It’s fortunate that she has in Mo, another market trader, a friend upon whom she can rely.
The Jeweller is beautifully written, with a lyrical quality that is a testament to the skills of Gwen Davies’ translation. If you want to experience this for yourself, read an exclusive extract from the opening of the book.
The Jeweller: Fast Facts
Caryl Lewis is an award-winning Welsh-language author who has published eleven books for adults, three novels for young adults, and thirteen children’s books.
She won the Wales Book of the Year Awards in 2005 with Martha, Jac a Sianco (Martha, Jack and Shanco), and Y Bwthyn (The Cottage) in 2016.
The Jeweller was published in Welsh as Y Gemydd in 2007.
Caryl Lewis has also written extensively for cinema and television. Her credits include the adaptation of Welsh-language scripts for the acclaimed “Nordic Cymru” crime series Hinterland which was produced back-to-back in Welsh and English.
Her short story The Root can be read on line here