My enormous thanks to http://www.lovereading.co.uk @lovereadinguk for an Advanced Reader Copy of ‘The Tea Planter’s Wife’ by Dinah Jeffries.
When Gwen marries the slightly older Laurence, a widowed Ceylonese tea planter, she is excited at the prospect of a new life. However, Gwen’s ironically named sister-in-law Verity, Christina, a past lover of Laurence, and the mysterious artist Savi Ravasinghe seem to be contriving to scupper her plans so that adapting to a different climate and dealing with a house and servants become the least of her worries.
Set in Ceylon in the first part of the twentieth century, the book is incredibly well researched with all aspects of history, geography and politics absolutely convincing but subtly woven into the narrative so they serve to underpin an interesting and exciting story. An inherent racism and colonial snobbery contribute to a feeling of menace and change as a dramatic backdrop for the more prosaic elements of life.
The plot flies along as Gwen feels her way in her marriage to a man holding secrets from the past until she has secrets of her own. It is totally engaging. I really wanted to know what would happen next and there were twists, red herrings and shocks throughout – even until the last few pages.
I found the characters believable and human, and had a particular empathy for Gwen. They flirt, argue, love with a passion, sulk and hurt one another so that they feel real to the reader. There is a vivid sense of the difference between tea plantation owners and the staff who work for them, giving layers of authenticity to the narrative.
An aspect that made the novel so enjoyable a read was the attention to detail; the senses are fully explored through the scents of cinnamon, the steamy heat of the monsoon season, the whisper of silk, the colours of clothes and the sound of drums. Dinah Jefferies paints a startling and convincing picture of colonial Ceylon.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Tea Planter’s Wife’. It’s recommended reading for those who love sweeping historical dramas that are totally entertaining.