The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

A story of guilt, betrayal and secrets, set in colonial era Ceylon.

The Tea Planter's Wife

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies begins in Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) in 1913, with a scene showing a woman leaving a house, cradling a baby with one arm. She had left a letter behind and I wondered what was in that letter and about the significance of her choosing to wear her favourite dress – a vivid sea green dress she wore the night she was certain the baby was conceived. It didn’t become clear until nearly the end of the book.

Move on twelve years to 1923, when 19 year old Gwendolyn Hooper arrives at the same house, the home of a tea planter, Laurence, an older man, a widower she had met and married in England after a whirlwind romance. The house is set in beautiful flower-filled gardens, sloping down to a shining silver lake and rising up behind the lake a tapestry of green velvet made up of rows of tea bushes where women in brightly coloured saris were plucking the tea leaves. Gwen is enchanted by the scene and is eagerly anticipating her new life with Laurence.

But this is not the idyllic life she expected – there are secrets, locked doors and a caste system and culture that is alien to her. Laurence, no longer as passionate about her as he had been in England, leaves her alone more than she would like. But with the help of one of the servants, Naveen and Savi Ravasinghe, a Sinhalese artist, she begins to settle into life on the plantation, even though it’s obvious that Laurence disapproves of Savi. In turn, Gwen is not happy about the way a glamorous American woman, Christina flirts with Laurence.

There is a mystery, too, surrounding the death of Caroline, Laurence’s first wife and when she finds a tiny overgrown grave no one wants to talk about it. The arrival of Laurence’s younger sister, Verity, only adds to Gwen’s problems – she’s bitter and twisted and it looks as though she has moved in permanently. So, when Gwen becomes pregnant she hopes that will improve her relationship with Laurence, especially as he is delighted that she is expecting twins. This is in many ways such a sad and tragic story – none more so than what happened when the babies were born and Gwen is faced with a terrible dilemma, one that she feels she must keep hidden from Laurence.

This is historical fiction set in a time and place that I know very little about, but I thought  the setting in Ceylon, was beautifully described, exotic and mysterious. It was a time of unrest too, with political and racial tension between the Sinhalese and Tamil workers and the British plantation owners. Gwen was horrified by the living conditions of the plantation workers but her attempts to improve them and provide basic medical treatment weren’t very successful. I thought the portrayal of Gwen’s character was well done, a young woman with a charming husband, older than her and initially their relationship reminded me of Max and his second wife in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, but the similarity ended there as the story developed.

In her Author’s Note at the end of the book (don’t read it before you read the book as it gives away the main secret) Dinah Jefferies explains that the idea for this novel came from her mother-in-law who told her stories passed down by her family, which included tea planters in Ceylon and also in India in the 1920s and early 1930s. They led her to think about the attitudes to race and the typical prejudices of that time – in particular about how such attitudes and assumptions could spell tragedy for a tea planter’s wife who lived an extraordinarily privileged life. She also includes a list of books that she had found useful whilst researching her book.

I’m not sure that I want to read any more of Dinah Jefferies’s books as although I did enjoy The Tea Planter’s Wife and it held my interest to the end, I also thought much of it was predictable and in places a bit too sentimentally melodramatic for me.

  • Paperback: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 Sept. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780241969557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241969557
  • Source: a library book
  • My Rating: 3.5*

Challenges:

Six Degrees of Separation: from Fight Club to The Word is Murder

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Fight Club

This month the chain begins with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, a book I haven’t read but it’s about a club where men meet in the basement of bars and can fight ‘as long as they have to’.

The Friday Night Knitting Club

So I’m moving away from a club where men meet and fight to a club where women meet to exchange knitting tips, jokes, and their deepest secrets. It’s The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. I haven’t read this book either. It seems as though they didn’t do much knitting so maybe there was more ‘natter’ than ‘knitting’. It sounds a bit too angst ridden for me and probably no more appealing than a fight club.

Dying In the Wool (Kate Shackleton, #1)

So, in a complete change of genre I’m moving on to crime fiction and my next link is to another use of wool in Dying in the Wool the first of Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton Mysteries, crime fiction set in Yorkshire in 1922, with flashbacks to 1916.  It’s a post World War 1 crime novel, along the lines of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs and Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple books, with an independent female amateur detective. Kate investigates the disappearance of mill owner Joshua Braithwaite who went missing after apparently trying to commit suicide.

Gallows View, the first Inspector Banks book by Peter Robinson, is also set in Yorkshire, where Alice Matlock, an old woman, living on her own, is found dead in her ransacked house in Gallows View, a row of old terraced  cottages. One of the suspects for her murder is a Peeping Tom who is targeting young, blonde women, following them as they leave the pub and then watching as they undress for bed.

A Good Hanging

There is also a Peeping Tom in Tit for Tat, one of the stories in Ian Rankin’s collection of short stories, A Good Hanging. Rebus investigates a fire in a tenement in Edinburgh where John Brodie lives after a woman in a tenement opposite reported a Peeping Tom had been spying on her, aiming his binoculars towards her flat. He claims he was ‘bird-watching’.

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie, #3)

KateAtkinson has written four books about another character called Brodie – Jackson Brodie. My favourite of these books is the third one – When Will There Be Good News? It’s set mainly in Edinburgh where Brodie, along with Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, is involved in the search for a missing woman. It has the most complicated plot, with many twists and interlinking sub-plots (some with convenient coincidences) and I loved it.

The Word Is Murder

Brodie is an ex-policeman and now a private investigator, as is  Daniel Hawthorne in The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz. This is a very clever and different type of murder mystery in which the author plays the part of himself helping Hawthorne to solve the murder of Diana Cowper who was killed on the same day that she had made arrangements for her funeral. I was totally unable to solve the mystery, the clues were all there, but I was so involved in sorting out what was real and what wasn’t and enjoying the puzzle that I completely missed them.

This month my chain has travelled from America to the United Kingdom, connected by clubs, wool, settings in Yorkshire, Peeping Toms, characters called Brodie and ex-policemen turned private investigators.

Next month (2 March) the chain will start with The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper.

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

The Glass Woman

Penguin UK Michael Joseph|7 February 2019 |400 pages|e-book |Review copy|3*

Top Ten Tuesday: The Ten Most Recent Additions to My To-Read List

top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is The Ten Most Recent Additions to My To-Read List. These are in no particular order, except for the first three which are books to be released later this year. I’m looking forward to reading each one of them!

The Silence of the GirlsThe Bear Pit: The Seeker 4This Poison Will Remain

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, out in paperback in June 2019, a retelling of the Trojan War.

The Bear Pit by S G MacLean, the 4th Damian Seeker novel, out in July 2019, set in the 17th century England under the rule of Cromwell, the Lord Protector.

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas out in paperback in August 2019, a Commissaire Adamsberg mystery investigating the death of three men, all killed by the venom of the recluse spider.

TranscriptionThe Wych ElmDear Mrs BirdThe Sealwoman's Gift

Transcription by Kate Atkinson – a standalone novel set in London in the world of espionage in the 1940s and 50s.

The Wych Elm by Tana French, a standalone psychological thriller.

Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce, historical fiction set in London in 1941.

The Seal Woman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson, set in 1627 as pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted 400 people into slavery in Algiers.

TemplarsThe Song of AchillesBlood & Sugar

The Templars by Dan Jones, non fiction about the Knights Templars and the Crusades

The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller, more historical fiction about the Trojan War and its heroes.

Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson, historical crime fiction set in June, 1781 about the slave trade.

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies, one of the library  books I wrote about in this post last week.

The Tea Planter's Wife

Prologue

 

Ceylon, 1913

The woman held a slim white envelope to her lips. She hesitated for a moment longer, pausing to listen to the achingly sweet notes of a distant Sinhalese flute. She considered her resolve, turning it over as she would a pebble in her palm, then sealed the envelope and propped it against a vase of wilting red roses.

Chapter I

Twelve Years Later, Ceylon 1925

With her straw hat in one hand, Gwen leant against the salty railings and glanced down again. She’d been watching the shifting colour of the sea for an hour, tracing the shreds of paper, the curls of orange peel and the leaves drifting by. Now that the water had changed from deepest turquoise to dingy grey, she knew it wouldn’t be long. She leant a little further over the rail to watch a piece of silver fabric float out of sight.

Blurb (Amazon)

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?

~~~

I think I’m going to enjoy this book – I really hope I will.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Destroying Angel by S G MacLean

Destroying Angel (Damian Seeker #3)

Destroying Angel is S G MacLean’s third book in her Damian Seeker series, historical crime fiction set during the Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, works for Thurloe, Cromwell’s Chief Secretary and spy master, in charge of the security of the regime. I have read The Black Friar, the second book in the series, but I have still to read first one, The Seeker – I have reserved this at the library, so hope to read it soon.

This third book is set in 1655 when Seeker is sent north by Colonel Robert Lilburne to the village of Faithly, on the Yorkshire moors. The Rule of the Major-Generals has begun in which England and Wales were divided into ten regions, each governed by a major-general who answered to the Lord Protector. Seeker is to brief the local commissioner, Matthew Pullan, on the latest anti-Royalist laws and the new  measures  and taxes to be imposed on Royalists, to prepare the way for the rule of the major-generals. As the vicar, Septimus Jenkins complains:

This England that Cromwell is making is not the England of free men. … Local officers – village constables – to be encouraged to inform on magistrates, justices of the peace, even, that they don’t consider well enough affected to the new ways. No race meetings nor cockfights nor bear-baitings to be held, no gatherings of Royalists in men’s private houses nor in public places even, for fear that should  a handful of themselves in one place they will have nothing to do but plot to overthrow Cromwell. Answer for your movements, don’t gather with your friends. (page 50)

These are hard times and Faithly is a place full of resentment and fear, brought to crisis point when Caleb Turner, a Trier appointed by the government to enforce Puritan morality arrives in the village. In particular he has come to try the vicar for ‘ungodly acts’. Added to that people have been whipped up into a frenzy of superstition at the suspicion of witchcraft. And that is made much worse when Gwendolen, Matthew’s young ward, who some suspect was a witch, dies from eating poisoned mushrooms – the deadly destroying angel fungus.

Faithly Manor, on Faithly Moor, is the home of Sir Edward Faithly, the local JP, whose father Sir Anthony and younger brother, Thomas had fought for the Stuarts. Sir Anthony was killed during the Civil War and Thomas had fled the country, whilst Edward had stayed on to run their estate. There are rumours that Thomas has now returned to England and Seeker had been sent to discover his whereabouts.

As well as searching for Thomas, Seeker has to find out how Gwendolen died – was it an accident or had the poison been intended for someone else and if so who and why? A large part of the book is set in York and, helped by the street plan showing the key areas and buildings, I enjoyed following Seeker’s walks around the City. Seeker is my favourite character in the book; an enigmatic character, a man both respected and feared, and a man to trust. I felt I knew very little, though, about his background so was pleased that as the story progressed more details of his personal history are revealed with the appearance of people from his past.

One reason I like S G MacLean’s books (her earlier books were written under the name of Shona MacLean) is that she has based them on solid historical research (she has an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Aberdeen). Another reason is that her style of writing suits me perfectly, the characters are just right, credible well-rounded people, and the plot moves along swiftly, full of atmosphere and tension.

The Bear Pit, the fourth Seeker book is due out this July, taking him back to London to investigate illegal gambling dens. And so I hope to find out yet more about Damian Seeker.

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (12 July 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 978-1-78648-4178
  • Source: Library book
  • My Rating: 4*

Destroying Angel qualifies for the When Are You Reading? challenge, the Calendar of Crime challenge in the category of a book originally published in July, and as it is a library book it also qualifies for the The Virtual Mount TBR challenge.

Six Degrees of Separation: from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Lieutenant

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, a book I read and loved years ago but now I’ve forgotten most of the details – I’ve been meaning to re-read it for years.

The French Lieutenant's Woman

But what I do remember is that it is a book with an alternative ending and what I first thought of for my first link is a book with no ending – The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. It begins with a scene in an opium den where Jasper lies under the influence of several pipes of opium, trembling and almost incoherent from the visions that came to him.

Drood

Drood by Dan Simmons is also full of opium induced nightmares. In this book Drood is horrific, a half-Egyptian fiend who takes laudanum by the jugful. I didn’t enjoy this book – it’s too long, too wordy and full of unlikeable characters, but it does contain some vivid descriptions – the slums of London, the train accident at Staplehurst and the fantastical “Undertown” with its miles of tunnels, catacombs, caverns and sewers.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a biography by Margaret Forster reveals that from an early age Elizabeth took a tincture of opium (laudanum) prescribed to her for various illnesses, including ‘nervous hysteria‘. Elizabeth had a beloved spaniel, Flush, who shares her sickroom.

Dumb Witness (Hercule Poirot, #16)

Agatha Christie also had a much loved dog and dedicated Dumb Witness to him. Poirot investigates the death of Miss Emily Arundell. The ‘dumb witness’ of the title is Bob, Emily’s wire-haired terrier. After Emily fell down the stairs, tripping over Bob’s ball, she was convinced her relatives were trying to kill her.

TNow We Shall Be Entirely Freehis brings me to Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller in which the main character, Captain John Lacroix, also takes opium and meets an Emily – Emily Frend, who is losing her sight. Lacroix, unable to face the memories of the horrors he experienced at the battle of Corunna is being tracked by Corporal Calley and a Spaniard, Lieutenant Medina, who have been ordered to kill him for his part in the battle.

The LieutenantMy final link is to another book about a lieutenant and also linking back to the start of the chain. It’s The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville, based on real events and set in 1788, about Daniel Rooke, a lieutenant and an astronomer with the First Fleet when it lands on the shores of New South Wales. Rooke gets to know the local Aboriginal people, and forges a remarkable connection with one child, which will change his life in ways he never imagined.

I like the circularity of this chain beginning and ending with books about lieutenants and containing a third book about yet another lieutenant. The chain passes through time and place from England in the 19th century to Australia in the 18th century, connected by the endings of books, opium addicts, a love of dogs and characters called Emily. I have read all the books except for The Lieutenant, which is one of my TBR books.

Next month (February 2, 2019), the chain begins with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.