8 Great Questions: Dinah Jefferies

The bestselling novelist opens up about her dream dinner party and why she loves luminous things.


With The Sapphire Widow, Dinah Jeffries brings us into Ceylon in 1935 and unfolds a sweeping story of love and betrayal. Louisa Reeve, the daughter of a successful British gem trader, and her husband Elliot, a charming, thrill-seeking businessman, seem like the couple who have it all, except what they long for most: a child.

As Louisa struggles with miscarriages, Elliot grows increasingly absent, spending much of his time at a nearby cinnamon plantation overlooking the Indian Ocean. After his sudden death, Louisa’s left alone to solve the mystery he left behind. Revisiting the plantation at Cinnamon Hills, she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to the owner Leo, a rugged outdoorsman with a checkered past. And though the plantation casts a spell, all isn’t as it seems.

Recently, Dinah spoke with Read It Forward about her love for Jane Eyre, the beloved Irish novel perfect to gift to others, and why she’ll always go to bat for historical fiction.

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti; Author Photo: Jenny Stewart

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What’s the book on your bedside table?

The Ballroom by Anna Hope. Set in an asylum in 1911, exquisitely written and deeply moving, this book is a must read—but take your time to savor it. I’m loving this shocking, sad, but extremely beautiful novel. This author has magic in her fingertips, and this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’ve also just finished The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings, a haunting story of loss and obsession that really gets under your skin. I loved it.

What’s the one book you tell everyone to read?

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Simon Mawer. It’s the best book set in WWII that I’ve read, with an incredibly brave female protagonist and a truly unexpected ending. It’s about fear, and it’s about bravery, and you will need tissues.

Name three characters from literature or authors (dead or alive) you’d want at a dinner party?

Amory Clay from William Boyd’s Sweet Caress, because she’s led such an exciting and varied life; Jane Eyre, because I want to know more about Rochester; and Queenie Hennessy from Rachel Joyce’s The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, because her story is so heartbreaking and real. But I would want to meet Queenie before she became sick, so I can hear her tell me her story of unrequited love from her own lips.

What word do you love and why? What word do you hate and why?

To be honest, I haven’t got a clue. Words are just words to me; it’s their misuse I hate. I love luminous because it’s soft, and its meaning is beautiful. I want to be luminous! And I want my books to be, too.

What’s the one book you love to give as a gift and to whom do you give it?

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: a wonderful book about the story of Ireland from 1940 to the present day. It’s a novel that will have you roaring with laughter one minute and crying the next. It’s a deeply atmospheric read with a gripping plot. Beautifully written, shocking, and bursting with emotion that really packs a punch.

What’s the one book you read as a kid that has stuck with you?

We are really talking far too long ago. I pass.

What’s the one book that never fails to delight or inspire you?

It has to be Jane Eyre. I’ve read it so many times and still love its tragic, gothic beauty.

If you could only read one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

It would have to be historical fiction. I love it. I write it. I am obsessed by the past and what it means in terms of the present, the way everything changes and yet nothing does. And the way the deeds or consequences of fate can continue to affect the present, no matter how much you may wish they didn’t. I love the theme of identity too, and the search for what that means throughout different periods of time, especially in relation to women.

DINAH JEFFERIES was born in Malaysia and moved to England at the age of nine. She now lives in Gloucestershire.
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