I’m really delighted today to be sharing my review of The Girl with the Silver Clasp by Juliet Greenwood on publication day: published by Orion, it’s now available in paperback, as an e-book and as an audiobook. My thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy, provided via netgalley.
When I shared my review of The Ferryman’s Daughter, Juliet’s first book for Orion, back in May 2020 (you’ll find my review here) I mentioned that I’d been reading and enjoying her books for quite a few years now. My enduring favourite has always been The White Camellia (review here), one of my Books of the Year in 2016 – beautiful writing, superb storytelling, one of those wonderful books that totally transports you into a world you really don’t want to leave. But I was particularly excited about her latest, from the moment I first read the description – and I’m delighted to report that it exceeded my every expectation, and I might just have found my new favourite.
Let’s take a closer look…
Will they find the courage to follow their dreams?
St. Ives, 1916.
Jess Morgan always hoped to become a celebrated silversmith, but when the men return from war she’s forced to return to her job as a seamstress. All she can cling to is the memory of that delicate, unique silver clasp she created for a society bride.
Rachel Bellamy served as an ambulance driver on the front line during the Great War but now it’s up to her to save the family home and picturesque harbour from her wealthy brother-in-law, before it’s too late.
Giselle Harding fought her way up from poverty to become a Hollywood movie star. Yet even the most beautiful jewels she owns will never fill replace the man she lost.
As the lives of the three women collide, will they be able to overcome their differences and fight together for the dreams they once held so close?
The first thing that drew me into this book was its vividly drawn location – a small community set around a small harbour near St Ives in Cornwall where their livelihoods depend on the family who live in Enys Hall, the large house set on the hillside above. But if the setting drew me in, it was the characters – the wonderfully strong women – who made me entirely love it.
After a prologue to set the scene, we find ourselves in 1916, and with the menfolk away at war harbourmaster’s daughter Jess is working as a blacksmith. But after seeing a piece of fine enamelled jewellery made by her mentor Ben, she yearns for the opportunity to make her own – instead she finds herself forced to become a seamstress to provide a more secure source of income. Rachel is the older daughter of the family who own Enys Hall – her family have seen a downturn in their fortunes with the impact of the war, and the marriage of their younger daughter might be the only way of ensuring their future. But the livelihoods of the small community depend on the family’s patronage, and their futures might be far less secure in the light of the ambitions of others.
The lives of both women drive the story, and the characterisation is quite wonderful. Jess can’t fail to win your heart, as she attempts to follow her dreams – she has a personality and inner strength that sees her clawing her way back after every new setback as she doggedly pursues her ambitions and her vision for the future. Rachel is extraordinarily likeable too – she seems destined for spinsterhood as her more flighty and less serious sister attracts the eye of every suitor, but she kicks back against the conventions of the time and any notion of “a woman’s place”, with a strong sense of right and wrong and a determination to fight against the inevitable. She defies convention when she travels to France as an ambulance driver, experiences a forbidden love affair, and comes up with her own plan to save the hall and the futures of all who depend on it. And that’s when we come across the third woman of the story, Giselle – now a movie star, she has a darker past she’s desperate to keep hidden, but also might have a significant role to play when the fortunes of the community hang in the balance.
Every element of this story is just so perfectly handled. The descriptions of the location really are stunning, brought to life in the homes and businesses on the harbourside, walking on the cliffs above, and on the busier streets of the more thriving town of St Ives. There’s a particular strength in the drawing of the three women, entirely real and believable as they strive for justice and what they believe in – but every single character in this book is fully rounded, springing to life from its pages, however peripheral the part they play. The conventions against which the story is set are wonderfully recreated too – those constraints on women being able to follow their chosen paths, moving you to anger and frustration, making you will them on at every turn.
The depth of the author’s research is amply evident – I particularly enjoyed the detail about the creation of the jewellery, particularly the art of enamelling, and the growing taste for Art Deco – but only used to add depth and richness to the story. This was an era when the world was changing, and it’s quite perfectly recreated along with the real lives of its characters of both social classes. And then there’s the story itself – this is really accomplished storytelling, drawing you into the characters lives from the very beginning, keeping the pages turning with every fresh challenge and setback, making sure you’re entirely consumed by the story to the very end, all with the perfect emotional touch.
I really loved this book – I picked it up to read on a sunny afternoon in the garden and read it in a single sitting, swept away into the world the author created. You really can’t ask for much more from a book than that – this is my new favourite from this very talented author, and I recommend it most highly.
About the author
Juliet Greenwood has always been a bookworm and a storyteller, writing her first novel (a sweeping historical epic) at the age of ten. She is fascinated both by her Celtic heritage and the history of the women in her family. Her great-grandmother was a nail-maker in Lye, in the Black Country, and her grandmother worked as a cook in a large country house.
After graduating in English from Lancaster University and Kings College, London, Juliet had a variety of jobs to support her ambition to be a full-time writer. These ranged from running a craft stall at Covent Garden to workshops in story-telling, along with spells of teaching and charity fundraising, and more recently as a freelance editor and proofreader.
Juliet has previously written stories and serials for magazines, as well as three historical novels published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press, two of which reached the top #5 in the UK kindle store.
Juliet now lives in a traditional quarryman’s cottage between the mountains and the sea near Conwy Castle in North Wales, and is to be found dog walking in all weathers, always with a camera to hand…