It was back in July 2007 that I bought The Jigsaw Maker and it’s been sitting on the to-be-read bookshelves ever since. It was worth waiting for as I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Lizzie Flynn has a shop in a village near Kilkenny, a sort of knick-knack shop selling a variety of goods, cards, flower arrangements, home-made sweets, that needs brightening up and bringing up to date. Much like Lizzie herself, a single lady nearing 50. Her settled life is turned upside down with the arrival of the Jigsaw Maker – Jim Nealon, a stranger who walks into her shop one morning and asks her to sell his beautiful jigsaws.
But these are no ordinary jigsaws. Jim makes wooden jigsaws, tiny intricately shaped pieces ‘finely cut so that they were more like buttons than jigsaw pieces’ And each one is individual showing a photograph of a real place accompanied by a personalised history of the scene:
It’s not just history,’ Jim said. ‘It’s real life. You don’t just know what it looks like now; you get a feel for what it was like in its heyday. It’s a personal memory. (page 8.)
He proposes to take photos of places, not the tourist attractions, but the places their ancestors might have lived and worked. He asks Lizzie to help him by writing about the scenes. To begin with he shows her a photo of the local school and asks her to picture herself back there in 1969 and write what she remembers – what it was like to be a pupil there.
It just so happens that 1969 had been quite an eventful year. This opens up the floodgates of memory for Lizzie as painful and puzzling events from that year almost over power her. Looking back at the child she was she realises that not everything was as it had appeared to her then.
It is just like a jigsaw – all the pieces are there and both the reader and Lizzie have to put them together correctly to get the correct picture. This is a beautifully written book, one with pace and tension in just the right places. I could visualise the scenes and the characters and I became anxious for Lizzie as she realised the truth not only about the events she had seen, but also about her place in those events. There are plenty of repressed secrets that come to the surface and an added mystery too – who is Jim? Why has he come to the village and why did he ask Lizzie in particular to help him?