27/06/2015

The Jigsaw Maker (by Adrienne Dines)

I read a novel by Adrienne Dines about eight years ago, and liked it very much. I decided to put her first novel on my wishlist, but unfortunately it went out of print and I’d almost forgotten about it until I came across it recently on the Awesome Books site. My copy, when it arrived, was almost good as new.

I started reading ‘The Jigsaw Maker’ about ten days ago, and found it a bit slow-moving at first. Lizzie is the main character; she’s middle-aged, and seems rather uptight and defensive when we meet her. She runs a souvenir shop which is a bit dated, but ticks over. Then a younger man called Jim calls into her shop, explaining that he makes jigsaws. He takes local photos and asks people to write about them, not in a tourist guide way, but focussing on their memories, and the stories involved.

Lizzie is not prepared for the emotions that come to the surface when she starts to think back to her school days. The story switches between 2006, which is the present day of the novel, and 1969, when Lizzie was a somewhat innocent child of ten. She recounts stories of the nuns who taught her, and the day trip they took to the zoo. We also read, through the eyes of a child, of some of the adult happenings, and in particular of an older girl who was sent to Dublin, ostensibly to have her tonsils out and then recuperate, although it’s fairly obvious to the reader that this is a euphemism.

While I had guessed some of the turns of the plot, which were revealed towards the end, I certainly hadn’t expected some of the dramatic - and sometimes shocking - events that form the latter part of the book. By the time I learned why Lizzie was so uptight and unforgiving of herself, I was so engrossed I could hardly put the book down.

The writing is very good; clear, nicely-paced, and bringing out the different characters so that I could almost imagine them. There are quite a few different people involved but I didn’t have any difficulty remembering who was whom.

I thought the plotting and gradual revelation of the ‘jigsaw’ of Lizzie’s life was very cleverly done. It’s not quite Maeve Binchy, although set in a similar environment; it wasn’t a warm and uplifting story at all, but quite draining at times.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it to anyone who likes powerful women’s fiction. The publisher Transita deliberately chose novels about middle-aged women, and I was sorry when they ceased publishing.

'The 'Jigsaw Maker' is not in print, but sometimes can be found second hand; it's also available on both sides of the Atlantic in Kindle form.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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