‘She Does Something Magical with her Characters’: Why I heart Lisa Jewell

Lisa Jewell’s characters can be riddled with self-doubt, plagued by insecurities and tremendously flawed. However, there is something magical about the way Jewell creates and shapes them. They can be unpleasant, unlikeable, frustrating in their poor decision making, but Jewell gifts them with a tangible life force. It’s more than just a sympathetic presentation, she invests them with such humanity you can’t help falling in love with them. You get the impression Jewell admires them, and although she can’t help disapproving of some of their actions and decisions, she celebrates their ability to find joy in adversity; they find happiness, eventually, often in the darkest places.

Lisa Jewell, along with Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella, Sophie Hannah, Clare Mackintosh and Bonkbuster novelists from the 80’s, fulfils my Best Book Criteria.

We are roughly the same age and her first novel, Ralph’s Party, * which came out in 1999, reflected exactly what was happening in my life at the time. I have grown up with Lisa Jewell and I love that she wrote a follow on book to Ralph’s Party called After the Party. Here, we revisit the passionate young lovers – Jem and Ralph – who got together at the end of the first book. Now older, with children and all the weariness caused by a long relationship and middle-age, Jewell explores what happens after the happily ever after. I read it with a huge lump in my throat. Highly recommended.

Over the years Jewell has developed and grown as a writer well beyond the ‘chick lit’ genre. Not just because the plot lines have become perhaps a little darker in contrast to the more frothy early novels, but the writing itself has matured and become more careful, more thoughtful. The characters have greater complexity, yes, but also more shades and layers which rings true for me as I approach 50. In many ways I am more tolerant of weakness in people, more forgiving as I age – and I find this in Jewell’s later novels. She explores her characters’ flaws, but always with tenderness and understanding.

Jewell Books MAW

The greatest accolade, as far as I’m concerned, is Jewell is one of the few authors whose books I will always buy in paper form. I feel she is too good for Kindle!

Of course you can have the most brilliant characters ever, but if the story’s no good then I’m not going to read it, and it’s certainly not going to get onto my list. Luckily, Jewell is a born story teller, and I can’t think of a single novel I have read by her where I haven’t forced myself to slow down so I didn’t finish the book too soon – taking my time to savour every moment. This has been very difficult with recent novels such as Then She Was Gone. This novel haunted me for months and months afterwards – I kind of didn’t want to finish it as the story was so sad. It tells the story of a missing girl and the absence she leaves in the lives of the people around her. It has a wonderfully effective multi-layered narrative which pulls you into the story, almost against your will.

I Found You, also a recent novel, is brilliantly clever and , as usual, I couldn’t put it down. Thankfully not as sad as Then She Was Gone, and I still think about the characters now, particularly Alice. These last two novels are thrillers, a shift from previous books.

I could waffle on about Lisa Jewell’s books for hours, but I want to give you my absolute favourites. I am very excited to say her latest novel has just landed on my doormat and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

In the meantime, I thought I’d tell you about three of my absolute favourites. Before I Met You, The Truth about Melody Browne, and The House We Grew Up In.

This is very different to Jewell’s earlier books. That’s one of the reasons I like her as an author. Unlike other writers she doesn’t just stick to a tried and tested formula. You couldn’t blame her for doing so – her earlier books were phenomenally successful – but not Lisa Jewell! She seems to constantly challenge herself, and this novel is a good example of this. It’s kind of an Historical Romance, but I don’t like calling it that as it seems a very narrow generic definition for a book which is so multi-faceted and rich.

This book twists two narratives together, one in the 1920’s, the other in the 1990’s, following two women as they face similar challenges despite being almost a hundred years apart. Secrets – of course! – are slowly uncovered and it’s Betty’s detective work into Arlette’s life which keeps you turning the pages.

The story is meticulously researched and the settings of both the characters have a real verisimilitude – you feel like you are walking side by side with the women as they explore their world. The depictions of the jazz age in particular are powerfully evocative. A great read. Good one for the Beach!

Anyone who has read my blog will know why I am writing about this novel.** I don’t want to spoil the plot, so you will have to read it to find out the reason I am so in love with this book. It is SUCH a good read. Melody Browne lives in London with her teenage son; she can remember nothing before her ninth birthday. As the novel unfolds memories start to break free and float to the surface: Strange fragments which make no sense.

Melody is compelled to uncover what happened to her, but the more she looks, the more incomprehensible her past becomes. Following the pieces as they slowly slot into the final picture is absorbing to say the least. The Truth About Melody Browne is funny and uplifting, but there are moments when I found myself sobbing like an abandoned child. I felt a strong connection with this book. So much so, I was compelled to write to Lisa Jewell via her Facebook page and she was LOVELY, taking the time to write back and discuss the inspiration for this novel with me. This is yet another reason why I completely ♥ Lisa Jewell.

Oh My God. This book. THIS. BOOK! My heart, my heart. It has become a classic in my library and I usually re-read this every year or so. It is heartbreaking, but in a good way – if that makes sense. I think (note I am very cleverly coming full circle here) its because of the central character: Lorelei. Oh! Lorelei! She is such a broken, flawed character, but with such capacity for joy, and complete and utter love for her family, it breaks your heart to read her story.

The story centres around Lorelei’s children who return to the house they grew up in. Here they are forced into an uncomfortable understanding of their mother’s psychological disintegration, and their role in the dislocation of their happy family. It is a sensitive, difficult subject. To be so convincing Jewell must have done a great deal of research and this, combined with her craftsmanship, sensitivity, and beautiful, beautiful writing makes this a phenomenal novel. I wish everyone in the world could read it.

You will find the Bird family, particularly Lorelei,  will stay with you after you finish this book. In fact I found I couldn’t read anything for a few days – this is unheard of – because I wanted to keep the memory of the story lingering for a bit before I replaced it with another.

I hope you found this useful – have you read anything by Lisa Jewell – do you love her as much as I do? Did I inspire you to read any of her books? It would be brilliant to hear what you think of her. Let me know!

 

*Just to say if you click the links and go on to buy anything I’ve recommended, I get a little bit of cash. Like, 3p 🙂

 

** If you want to know why this book resonates with me you can read this here, but please don’t until you have read the novel as it will be a spoiler!

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9 thoughts on “‘She Does Something Magical with her Characters’: Why I heart Lisa Jewell

  1. Juliet

    Dammit woman – I WAS on a book diet, oh well with all diets I guess a little slippage happens from time to time – I might just have to investigate. I have just started On Chesil beach, before I start The Ministry of utmost happiness, before I start On the other side before I start…..as I have the most shameful pile of unread material. I wonder what every one else is reading, the last books I read that really got to me where Die my love and then also The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: My Best Summer Reads 2018 – Middle-Aged Warrior

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