“Normandy, France, 1891: a young woman painstakingly sews an intricate beaded collar to her wedding dress, the night before her marriage to someone she barely knows. Yet Aimee longs for so much more …
Shanghai, 1926: dancing sensation and wild child Zephyr spies what looks like a beaded headpiece lying carelessly discarded on a ballroom floor. She takes it with her to Malaya where she sets her sights on a prize so out of reach that, in striving for it, she will jeopardise everything she holds dear …
PRECIOUS THINGS tells the story of a collar – a wonderful, glittering beaded piece – and its journey through the decades. It’s also the story of Maggie, an auctioneer living in modern-day London, who comes across the crumpled, neglected collar in a box of old junk, and sets out on an unexpected mission to discover more about its secret and elusive past.
Maggie has a journey of her own too. Juggling a demanding job, a clingy young child and a rebellious stepdaughter, and with her once-solid marriage foundering under the pressure of a busy life, Maggie has to find out the hard way that you can’t always get what you want… but sometimes, you’re lucky enough to get precisely what you need.
This is a wonderful, absorbing and moving novel about desire, marriage and family, telling the story about how we so often reach out for the sparkly, shiny things (and people) we desire, only to realise – in the nick of time – that the most precious things are the ones we’ve had with us all along.”
In the contemporary storyline we meet Maggie, an auctioneer trying to find balance between motherhood, marriage and her career. When she buys a box of old items for herself from an auction, she thinks nothing further of its contents until one day when she is scrabbling around in it and comes across a beautifully crafted coronet.
It is when someone sees a picture in the newspaper of the coronet and approaches Maggie about helping her with some research into the item’s origins that the story begins to unfurl and Maggie’s life begins to veer seductively off course as she is drawn into the history, mystery and seduction of the object as it casts its shadow over the already lacklustre clarity of her own life, leading her to question exactly what it is that is precious to her.
Much like Kelly Doust, I have always been captivated by vintage items (especially furniture) and the stories they have to tell, often finding myself dreaming about where these precious pieces come from and what paths they have trodden on their passage through the generations.
Although I was initially confused with the structure, jumping between the various people who have owned the collar through the decades, that confusion soon lifted once I figured out what Kelly was trying to convey through her story and I began to just enjoy the stories for what they were – of the journey of a “precious thing” through love, heartbreak, grief, blood, sweat and tears, as it transformed from part of a wedding dress in 1890’s Normandy to a circus performer’s coronet in 1920’s Shanghai, coming into the possession of an artist’s muse in 1950’s Rome, until it found its way into Maggie’s life.
These shorter historical storylines are vibrantly rich, both in character and setting, contrasting strongly against the chilly air of the current day England and the life in which Maggie lives and I can only imagine how much research went into this book because the historical details feel so authentic.
There is no doubt that Kelly is passionate about vintage items, after all she has already published a number of non-fiction books on the subject, because this passion for beautiful objects bleeds through into the story with sumptuous detail as she brings her own vintage expertise and knowledge to this beguiling novel.
Beautifully detailed and intricately layered, Kelly’s writing has such a gentle cadence to it that it’s not a book to be picked up lightly and read in one sitting … it’s one to read slowly and savour as she transports you back and forth in time to exotic destinations which are evocatively described and vividly painted.
So, because it’s getting to that time of year when the chilly, shorter days of winter are slowly creeping up on you, why don’t you pour a glass of wine, curl up on your favourite armchair, drape a lovingly cherished vintage blanket over your feet and enjoy this escapist tale of duty, despair, desire, family, love and fashion.
I wish to thank HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a hard copy ARC for review.
About the Author
Kelly Doust is the bestselling author of A Life in Frocks: A memoir, vintage fashion bible Minxy Vintage: How to Customise & Wear Vintage Clothing and craft books The >Crafty Minx, The Crafty Kid and The Crafty Minx at Home.
With a background in book publishing and publicity, Kelly has worked in the UK, Hong Kong and Australia, and has freelanced for Vogue, Australian Women’s Weekly and Sunday Life Magazine.
She currently lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and daughter.
Precious Things is her first novel and was published on 1 April 2016.