‘For is that not the secret of life? To keep open as many of our options as possible for as long as we may dare. And if my only remaining option to keep them alive…’
This is the first of a trilogy set in 17th Century Madras, India, a period and place which I am keen to know more about. David Ebsworth provides a wealth of information in this novel, a feat of painstaking research and historical detail. Taking the form of a private journal, this is the story of a woman who actually existed and is apparently well-known in and around the Wrexham locality, although most people will never have heard of her or her husband Elihu Yale. This is a shame because she was clearly a woman of great pragmatism. When her husband Joseph dies, leaving her with no means of support, she decides – in rather too much of a hurry for the gossips of Madras – to re-marry Elihu Yale, a man with little obvious charm. It is an arranged marriage in which they have agreed certain conditions ( I shan’t spoil the plot). Needless to say, things do not progress as smoothly as anticipated. The diary format and first person narration can tend to distance the reader from the action which is always reported but David Ebsworth handles this smoothly, and there are some great scenes reported in this novel – the age-old Tamil practice of a widow throwing herself onto a funeral pyre, the death of a child by snakebite, famine, rioting servants and the bloody betrayal by those Mistress Yale trusts the most. Ebsworth creates a convincing language for the time, peppered with Tamil phrases, which are helpfully given a glossary at the back. You will especially enjoy this book if you are interested in the East India Company and life in early Madras.
The book is beautifully produced with a lovely cover and interior design.
Where did I buy this book? I was sent a complimentary copy by the author for an honest review.
“How do I explain it to her? he said.
‘Tell her the truth,’ she said. ‘That her husband wished her to marry a dead man; and that, since he is gone, her fate is to be decided by you.’
A slow burner of a book with rich historical detail of 18th Century London. The story begins with a murder, and at the outset you wonder who cut Pierre Renard’s throat and why. His journal entries are at the start of the chapters so you gradually begin to get an insight into the man, and why he might have been killed. Multiple points of view and multiple threads make this book hard to fathom at the beginning, but the quality of the writing guides you through until the plot begins to knit together. Mary, The Silversmith’s Wife of the title, has been so downtrodden by her abusive life with Renard that she is prone to sleepwalking and night terrors. When he dies, though, she is vulnerable, and the conditions of his will mean that pressure is put on her to re-marry. In this tense brooding atmosphere, the murderer is still at large, and this gives a dark edge to all the relationships in the book. I would have liked more detail on the actual silversmithing, because it was fascinating. I suppose what weakened the book for me was the fact that Mary was a victim from the start and her initial lethargy didn’t endear me to her. Other characters such as her sister, Mallory, were more interesting, but I did find the themes of deceit, greed, and control of others kept me turning the pages and I would definitely search out more books by this author.
Overall, this was a really well-written book and one I would recommend to historical fiction fans for its sense of brooding menace.
Where did I buy this book? I picked up the quality hardback, which has lovely endpapers, at my local second-hand bookshop (Carnforth Books)