Lucy Swann is trying on a new life. She’s bought new clothes and cut and dyed her hair. But in a small town in northern France her flight is violently cut short. When Inspector Vivier and his handsome assistant Sabine Pelat begin their investigation into her murder, the chance encounters of her last days take on a new significance. Lucy’s death, like a stone thrown in a pool, sends out far-reaching ripples, altering the lives of people who never knew her, and the lives of her loved ones back home.
A few months ago, I read and reviewed an excellent book published by Seren Books – Love And Fallout by Kathryn Simmonds. At that time, Seren Books was quite unknown to me – although they’ve now been in existence for thirty years. Seren is an independent literary publisher, specialising in English-language writing from Wales, with a prize-winning list with something to offer anyone with an interest in excellent writing. Their aim is not simply to reflect what is going on in the culture in which they publish, but to drive that culture forward, to engage with the world, and to bring Welsh literature, art and politics before a wider audience.
I was delighted when they asked me to read and consider reviewing another book from their catalogue, Significance by Jo Mazelis, published on 11th September. I’m so very pleased they did – this book was quite wonderful, and I might never have otherwise discovered it.
On the surface, this book is a murder mystery. Lucy walks away from her former life, changes her appearance, becomes a different person, crosses the path of a number of people in a small town in Northern France, and is then found murdered. Inspector Vivier and his assistant Sabine become involved – we watch the progress of their investigation, but also their complex and fascinating relationship.
But this is so much more than a murder mystery. Every character who touched Lucy’s life has a story of their own, and the whole book has the intricacy of lace as various story story threads are picked up and put down, sometimes tangling, sometimes continuing separately. On the last night of her life, Lucy has a troubling encounter with Scott, a Canadian on holiday with his poet wife Marilyn and his mentally ill brother Aaron. The encounter happens at a pavement cafe, and the other people present that night become part of her story – waitress Suzette, in the early stages of her affair with Florian, the elderly couple at the nearby table with their past lives as political activists. Lucy later calls into another cafe, dropping her cardigan, which draws more people into the story – the young black man Joseph who has just been accepted for a place at medical school, the lonely old lady who sees him pick up the cardigan. And then there are the people Lucy left behind – her parents, her work colleagues, her boyfriend Thom.
Quite beautifully written, easy to read but with a poetic quality that takes your breath away at times, this book was unlike anything I’ve read before. I started reading it as a murder mystery, but soon realised it was so much more than that – its fascination is in the lives of the other people, and the way they are profoundly affected by a single event that happens to someone many of them don’t even know. Incredibly different and a totally mesmerising read – thank you Seren, I really loved it.
Jo Mazelis is a published writer of short stories, non-fiction and poetry. Her collection of stories, Diving Girls (Parthian, 2002), was short-listed for the Commonwealth ‘Best First Book’ and Wales Book of the Year. Her second book, Circle Games (Parthian, 2005), was long-listed for Wales Book of the Year. Her stories and poetry have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in various anthologies and magazines, and translated into Danish. Born and educated in Swansea Jo returned to her home town in 1991 after working in London for many years. During the 1980s she worked as a graphic designer, photographer and illustrator for the magazines City Limits, Women’s Review, Spare Rib, Undercurrents, Everywoman and New Dance.