The Jewel Box is set in London in the spring and early summer of 1927. Grace Rutherford is a copywriter for an ad agency by day, but by night she’s Diamond Sharp, a girl-about-town and newspaper columnist. She starts an affair with Dexter O’Connell, a famous American writer, while simultaneously attracted to John Cramer, another American writer abroad, who befriends Grace’s sister Nancy, a widowed mother of two The “present” is interspersed with scenes from the “past” (the War).
The Jewel Box is an exceedingly charming book. Anna Davis takes the reader to a world where people drank gin fizzes and smoked cigarettes in long holders at places with names like the Tour Eiffel or the Kit Kat Club, when people danced the Charleston and women wore their hair in Louise Brooks-style bobs. Grace/Diamond IS the flapper of the 1920s, but, like everyone else of her generation, she’s haunted by the past. How does one, as Grace reflects, “draw a line under recent events and move on?”
Characterization is very strong in this novel. O’Connell and Cramer, I noticed, are very much like F. Scott Fitzgerald, in many ways—I won’t go into them so as not to spoil the story overmuch. Suffice it to say that The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night probably had a lot of influence on this book—not so much in terms of overall writing style as in plot. The back of this novel says that it’s about secrets and lies, but it’s also about betrayal, too—betrayal of the most insidious kind. In fact, you might end up even despising Grace a little bit.
As the author says in interview questions at the end of the book, there’s a specific reason why she set the book in the spring and summer of 1927. The “past” in mentioned often, but it’s sort of glossed over. Maybe that was the author’s intention—to take the focus and put it on the happy events in Grace’s life, not the ones that brought so much heartache. As it is, this novel is written in a light-hearted, funny tone (especially the “excerpts” from Diamond’s column that start off each chapter). There’s an “introduction” to The Jewel Box at the end (kind of contradictory, but whatever), a short piece on the history of the columnist, and a rather silly list of discussion questions. Much more interesting are the questions the author answers at the end of the novel, which explains a lot about the impetus behind the writing of The Jewel Box. In all, this is a hugely compelling novel, one which sometimes gave me a lot to think about.