(all the page number I use are from my personal edition of the book)
I used to read a lot of Danielle Steel as a teenager (and by that, I mean when I was thirteen or fourteen, maybe fifteen) but it had been years, and besides I didn’t understand English at that age, so I was really reading the translations. I think it’s worth my time to re-read those I already read, or to give a go at some of her books I haven’t read.
I’m pretty sure that Jewels falls in the second category. I have no memory of having read it, at the very least. It’s possible that I’ve obliterated the memory, that it was simply not consequential enough, but I doubt it. I’m sure that something would have sounded familiar in the 470 pages paperback.
Anyway, the resume: Sarah, the dowager duchess of Whitfield, is preparing to attend her 75th birthday party, and on this momentous occasion, she remembers her life. That is literally all that the book is, and anything else that I could say would be spoiling details of the story. Not that the editors and/or the marketing team seem to mind, but I’ll get to that in a second.
First, I want to say that I did like the book, and that the proof of this statement lies in the fact that I finished it, despite all challenges it presented me with.
There is the obvious one: from the very first chapter, we know that the heroine will live to be 75, that she is a widow, that she has four children and many grandchildren, that she lives in a castle. She is nearing the end of a very long, very good life, and telling the reader as much right up front robs the narrative of all its tension.
It goes something like this:
BOOK: Oh, no! The heroine is in danger!
ME: It’s fine, she lives to be seventy-five.
BOOK: Oh, no! The hero is in danger!
ME: He’s not going to die just now, they haven’t had their four children yet.
BOOK: The heroine is considering an abortion.
ME: It’s the fourth kid from chapter one, she’s not aborting anything.
And so on and so forth.
The back cover is even worse. It gives up something like 80% of the story. From reading that cover, we learn that the heroine is a Stater (my personal name of Americans, when I remember the use it: America isn’t just the US, people!) who lived in the ’30’s, who gets divorced and is dragged through Europe by her parents, where she meets the hero. We learn that the hero is a distant heir to the crown and that he gives up his place in the line of succession to marry the heroine. We learn that they buy the chateau in France as newlyweds, and that they are separated by World War Two, with the heroine already having one child and being pregnant with a second. We learn that after the war, they begin to buy jewels from war survivors who need the money more then the stones, and that from there they open up a jewelry store in Paris, before expending in London and Rome. We learn the names of their four children, and that they are all connected to the family business in their own way. The fourth kid is born on page 357 (of 471, 75% of the way through). The store in Rome opens on page 422 (89% of the way through), for crying out loud! Anyone who pays the smallest bit of attention will have no surprises whatsoever.
Then there is the fact that the book feels like a history lesson in disguise, like the characters were chosen to be the type who would reflect those events to the reader the best. (A Stater divorcee and an heir to the British throne, anyone? Lady Author isn’t even pretending to be subtle: Edward VII and Wallis Simpson are not only referred to specifically, they are characters in the book and they interact with our heroes.) Now, a history lesson in disguise isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re going to do that, try to be more discreet. There is also the fact that the years 1935 to 1949 are covered in the pages 1 to 314, leaving only 157 pages to cover the years 1950 to 1991. Almost thrice as much time in half the space; a lot of stuff gets skipped over in that last third of a book. Unfortunately, that’s the part with the life story of all the children, so they feel really shallow as a result. And then there are the sentence structures, which were sometimes genuinely terrible and distracting from the story. I don’t want to have to re-read the same sentence three times just to figure out what the author was saying, and I shouldn’t have to.
I’m griping a lot, I know. I really did like the story. I found the hero and the heroine attaching, I loved reading about their courtship and their marriage. This book is a solid six out of ten.