The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dinah Jefferies' unforgettable new novel, The Tea Planter's Wife is a haunting, tender portrait of a woman forced to choose between her duty as a wife and her instinct as a mother...
Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper steps off a steamer in Ceylon full of optimism, eager to join her new husband. But the man who greets her at the tea plantation is not the same one she fell in love with in London.
Distant and brooding, Laurence spends long days wrapped up in his work, leaving his young bride to explore the plantation alone. It's a place filled with clues to the past - locked doors, a yellowed wedding dress in a dusty trunk, an overgrown grave hidden in the grounds, far too small for an adult...
Gwen soon falls pregnant and her husband is overjoyed, but she has little time to celebrate. In the delivery room the new mother is faced with a terrible choice, one she knows no one in her upper class set will understand - least of all Laurence. Forced to bury a secret at the heart of her marriage, Gwen is more isolated than ever. When the time comes, how will her husband ever understand what she has done?
The Tea Planter's Wife is a story of guilt, betrayal and untold secrets vividly and entrancingly set in colonial era Ceylon.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, right from the start I knew I was going to like it and it didn't disappoint. Beautiful descriptive writing evoking images of a an exotic Ceylon and the tensions between two castes the Sinhalese and the minority group Tamils which form the backdrop of this sensitively written story.
The story begins with the arrival of 19 year old Gwen Hooper in Ceylon eager to join her new husband Laurence and start her life as a married woman and mistress of his tea plantation. Full of excitement and anticipation, very much in love with her husband, Gwen soon realises that Laurence is not the same person she married in England. He appears secretive, distant and constantly working he does not spend much time with her at all. With all the pressures of running the household, language and custom barriers Gwen feels lonely and abandoned in this strange new land. She constantly gets herself into trouble when, because of ignorance of customs and behaviours, she reacts to things that happen around her. Gwen follows her heart rather than what is socially acceptable and this causes problems in the household. She is also jealous of one of Laurence's American female friends Caroline; believing that there is a chemistry between them Gwen convinces herself they are having an affair. This obsession carries itself through the story and Gwen makes some very silly mistakes because of it.
When Gwen falls pregnant and gives birth to twins she has to make a terrible choice to give up her daughter to save her marriage which almost costs her sanity as a result. Racked with guilt she has to try and carry on for her son Hugh in the hope that she can keep her secret safe.
There's little point in my going any further as it would reveal too much but suffice it to say that it covers family secrets, deceit, grief, racial tension and violence which all makes for a gripping read. I did guess some of the secrets but still enjoyed how the author wove these into the novel leading to the climax.
Good characterisation in this novel; the vivacious Fran Gwen's cousin, the mysterious Savi the Indian artist, the spoilt petulant Verity Laurences' sister, Christina the object of Gwens' jealousy, Naveena the ayah who was Laurences' nanny, and references to Caroline Laurences' first wife. As the story unfolds these characters come to life and their own personalities and stories come out to intertwine with Gwens' and set the plot on its' pacy course.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would give it 4 stars, not a 5 only because I did guess the ending.
I would like to thank the publisher for sending this in exchange for an honest review.