Jam and Roses by Mary Gibson, published May 2015 by Head of Zeus.
Read: June 2016
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: Three sisters are growing up in 1920s Bermondsey – the larder of London – with its bustling docks, its spice mill, tannery and factories. Southwells jam factory is where many of the girls work. And Milly Colman knows she’s lucky. At Southwells she can have a laugh with her mates. She’s quick and strong and never misses a day’s work. She needs to be. Because at homes things are very different.
The Colman household is ruled by the tyrannical rages of the old man – her father. Often Milly feels she is the only thing protecting her mother and younger sisters from his murderous violence. At least autumn hop-picking in Kent gives all the Colman women a heavenly respite. But it is here, on one golden September night, that Milly makes the mistake of her life and finds her courage and strength tested as never before.
There are times I really crave a historical read, and while my favourite time periods tend to be Tudor England and World War II, I’m not opposed to dipping my toe into other eras of yester-year. The cover and blurb of this book caught my eye, and I had visions of getting lost in it while drinking glorious amounts of tea. Well, that really wasn’t how this read went at all…
For me, Jam and Roses was very slow and laborious, and I seriously considered DNFing at least three times. This is huge, because I very rarely DNF a novel. In this case, Gibson isn’t necessarily a bad writer – there were moments throughout the novel where I was engaged, there were moments of humour I appreciated, and the depiction of the harsh realities faced during the time period were also insightful, and at times interesting to read. However, the pacing left much to be desired, as did the repetitive and drawn out feeling of the story. Every time I felt like giving up on this read, there would be a minor plot twist, or a carrot dangled, that would encourage me to read on, believing that the tempo change was now upon us, and we were getting to the good bits, a bit like Westlife’s key changes in the 90s.
These moments, sprinkled throughout the 6 year time-span of the novel, tricked me into continuing to read it to the point where I wanted to finish it just to see what happened at the end, and so I could write a full review based on the entire book. Ultimately, I didn’t connect with any of these characters enough to cheer them on, or really care for them that much. The book contains a cast of characters, which may contribute to the dilution of the story, but there is also a smaller group we stay with and learn a lot more about. Over the course of the book too much time was spent on superfluous and minor details, which resulted in boredom and made me disconnect. There are so many sub-stories going on, both with our main character, and side characters. I think a more focused narrative would have kept me much more engaged, and perhaps tighter editing would have made this a more enjoyable read. By the end I skim read a few chapters of this 437 page book, which felt more like 600+.
When I feel negatively towards a book, I like to check out other reviews in an attempt to determine if my thoughts are validated, or if it’s a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. While this read has an average high rating on both Goodreads and Amazon, a quick delve into the individual reviews shows that I’m definitely not alone in my thoughts. That being said, the negative reviews are the minority, so it looks as though the jury may be out on this one. Proceed with caution – you have been warned.
Have you read Jam and Roses? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!