Book Review: The Sapphire Widow

The Sapphire Widow by Dinah Jefferies

Dates Read: 05/04/2021-12/04/2021

My Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I was super disappointed with this one, and in the end read it as quickly as possible just to finish it so I could read something else. I think maybe my judgement is a little biased due to the colonial setting which feels extremely dated and has never been a genre I’ve particularly enjoyed. About 200 pages in, I even checked the publication date and was astonished this book was first published in 2018!

However, it wasn’t just the setting which disappointed me in the Sapphire Widow. The characters don’t seem to fully inhabit their space – by which I mean that I simply didn’t feel enough understanding of them to be able to empathise and so to care what happens to them. Even the saintly Louisa – in many ways a modern, independent woman but also massively defined by the men in her life and seemingly lacking any sort of insight or intuition into human nature. There are a lot of characters in here, and for me, it would have been better to reduce the cast and really concentrate on developing the motivations and experiences of the key players.

There’s a weird sub plot involving some dastardly scoundrels around the periphery of Louisa’s dead husband’s, let’s face it, less than savoury history, but the details are never fleshed out, we still don’t know what is and what isn’t true and in the end it’s expediently resolved without really adding anything to the narrative.

The reason this gets two rather than one star from me is in the skill of the author’s prose which is engaging and well written, so the descriptive passages, sights, sounds and smells do transport you to Sri Lanka in a bygone era. It’s a shame this skill doesn’t, for me, extend to her characters and storyline, as I think this would have fleshed out and improved the experience for me no end.

I like to read books that I maybe wouldn’t choose ordinarily, which is how I came upon this one. It’s a sound strategy which has definitely expanded my tastes but it’s always going to be a mixed bag. Some you win, some you lose! However, the Sapphire Widow clearly caught the imagination of lots of other readers who have thoroughly enjoyed this work so don’t let my ramblings put you off.


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