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:

First Chapter First Paragraph: I Found You by Lisa Jewell

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 I Found You by Lisa Jewell, one of the books I’m currently reading.

I Found You

 

Alice Lake lives in a house by the sea. It is a tiny house, a coastguard’s cottage, built over three hundred years ago for people much smaller than her. The ceilings slope and bulge and her fourteen-year old son needs to bow his head to get through the front door. They were all so little when she moved them here from London six years ago. Jasmine was ten. Kai was eight. And Romaine the baby was just four months old. She hadn’t imagined that one day she’d have a gangling child of almost six feet. She hadn’t imagined they’d ever outgrow this place

Blurb (Amazon)

Everyone has secrets. What if you can’t remember yours?

‘How long have you been sitting out here?’
‘I got here yesterday.’
‘Where did you come from?’
‘I have no idea.’

Lily has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night, she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one.

Alice finds a man on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, no idea what he is doing there. Against her better judgement, she invites him into her home.

But who is he, and how can she trust a man who has lost his memory?

~~~

 I enjoyed Lisa Jewell’s Watching You so much that I decided to look out for more of her books, so when I saw this in the library I borrowed it. I’m enjoying it so far.

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.

The Virtual Mount TBR Challenge

I’ve decided to take part in another challenge this year – because I always like to borrow library books and this is a place to record them. It’s Bev’s new challenge – The Virtual Mount TBR Challenge.

This challenge is for books is only for books you do not own. They may be borrowed from the library, a friend, or anywhere else as long as they are not something that you buy and keep. Also–unlike Mount TBR, there is no date limit.

Challenges Levels:

Mount Rum Doodle: Read 12 books
Mount Crumpit: Read 24 books
Mount Munch: Read 36 books
White Plume Mountain: Read 48 books
Stormness Head: Read 60 books
Mount Mindolluin: Read 75 books
Mount Seleya: Read 100 books
Mount Olympus: Read 150+ books

In keeping with the virtual nature of the challenge, all mountains are fictional. See the comments in Bev’s sign-up post for explanations of their origins and for the full rules.

For the time being I am aiming to climb Mount Rum Doodle. I’ve already read two library books this year and as I currently have 8 books out on loan plus 2 that I’ve reserved this will give me a good start and maybe I’ll even carry on up the next virtual mountain, Mount Crumpit.

 

The Accordionist by Fred Vargas

The Accordionist (Three Evangelists 3)

The Accordionist by Fred Vargas and translated by SianReynolds is the third book in the Three Evangelists series and it’s probably the most puzzling of the three. They are quirky crime fiction novels, with eccentric characters and intricate plots. The three ‘Evangelists’ are thirty-something historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien, all specialists in three different periods of history, who live in a rambling house in Paris. Together with ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler, retired from the Ministry of the Interior, they find themselves involved in murder mysteries, mainly because Louis just can’t resist trying to solve particularly difficult crimes.

In this third book a simple-minded young man, Clément Vauquer, who plays the accordion, is the prime suspect for the murders of two Parisian women as he was seen watching both of their apartments before their murders. Desperate to prove his innocence he appeals to Marthe, who had looked after him as a child, for help.

Louis is supposed to be translating a biography of Bismark, but the newspaper reports of the two murdered women have distracted him so when his old friend Marthe tells him that Clément, who is like a son to her, is innocent and being used as a scapegoat he agrees to investigate and find the real culprit. He in turn, enlists the help of the three evangelists and Marc’s uncle, a retired policeman and they take Clément into their house to protect him whilst they dig deeper into the mystery.

I found this book the most baffling of the trilogy and really had no idea of how they managed to unravel all the strands of this murder mystery which has its roots in the past. They worked on instincts and by deciphering Clément’s muddled thoughts and memories, and with the help of a poem by the nineteenth century poet, Gerard de Nerval, finally uncover the killer’s identity. It’s the eccentric characters and the complicated plots that make Fred Vargas’ books stand out for me.

Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of of the French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. She has won three International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers Association, for three successive novels: in 2006, 2008 and 2009. I’ve also enjoyed her Commissaire Adamsberg books, probably more even than the Three Evangelists, and I still have a few of that series left to read including the tenth and latest book in the series, This Poison will Remain, due to be published in August this year.

  • Format: Paperback
  • File Size: 783 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0099548364
  • Source: Library book
  • My Rating: 4*

Books Read in November 2018

This month I read seven books, made up of one review copy that came to me via  NetGalley, two library books and four of my own books (two of these on Kindle). Two of the seven books are non-fiction and the rest are fiction. My ratings range from 5 to 2.5 stars and are based solely on my reactions to the books.

I’ve written about three of these books (click on the links to read my reviews):

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of ReadingAbsolute ProofIn a Dark, Dark Wood

  1. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill 5*  – in which Susan Hill describes a year of her reading.
  2. Absolute Proof by Peter James 3.5* –  a standalone thriller that is very different from his Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.
  3. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware 2.5* – I was disappointed as this book promised to be a psychological thriller but it neither thrilled nor scared me, although it is a page-tuner. Leonora and Clare haven’t seen  or even spoken to each other since they were 16, ten years ago. So why has Clare invited Leonora to her hen party held in a glass house in the middle of a wood?

Here are some brief notes about the remaining four books:

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With DeathThe ReckoningThe New Mrs CliftonTombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell 5* – I wrote this Friday post about this book, with two quotations and a summary of the book. It’s a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters of near-death experiences, with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, revealing a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It’s a beautifully written book that I loved.

The Reckoning by John Grisham 5*, about Pete Banning, Clanton’s favourite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbour, and a faithful member of the Methodist Church. Why did he shoot and kill the Reverend Dexter Bell? And then refuse to say why he killed him? I was intrigued and fascinated by the whole book that went back into Pete’s wartime experiences during world War Two during the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan 4* this begins in 1974 with the discovery of a skeleton, the remains of a woman, between twenty-five and thirty, buried beneath a tree in the garden of house in Clapham, facing the Common. Her identity and why and how she was killed is not revealed until very nearly the end of the book.

It then moves back in time to 1945 when Intelligence Officer Gus Clifton returns to London with Krista, the German wife he married secretly in Berlin. For his sisters, Julia and Tilly, this broken woman is nothing more than the enemy. For Nella, Gus’s loyal fiancée, it is a terrible betrayal. Elizabeth Buchan paints a convincing and moving picture of life in both London and Berlin post-war, highlighting the devastation of the bombing and showing how people have to come to terms with the changes in their lives. All the way through the book I wondered who the killer was and which woman had been murdered.

Tombland by C J Sansom 5* – I wrote this Friday post this book, giving two quotations and a summary of the book. Set in 1549 this is a remarkable and detailed book about the situation as Edward VI is on the throne following the death of his father Henry VIII and his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector.

Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Edward’s sister, the Lady Elizabeth. He is employed to investigate the gruesome murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother. But the main part of the book is about Kett’s Rebellion – as thousands of peasants, in protest about the enclosures of common land, gather together on Mousehold Heath outside Norwich and battle ensues.

It’s an enormous book and I’m planning to write a longer post about it.

 

 

 

 

Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill

Nine years ago I read Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading, a book in which she wrote about the books from her own collection she’d read or re-read over the course of a year. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books is a similar book in that it follows month by month a year during which she reflects on the books she has read, reread, or returned to the shelves as well as her thoughts on a whole variety of topics.

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of Reading

It’s full of her observations on the weather, on nature – birds, flowers, trees, moles, eels, egrets and so on – on writers and writing, about religion and fairy tales and many more besides as well as on books. She also writes about herself and notes her obsessions with, for example, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set, Marilyn Monroe, wood engravings, medieval monasticism, Elizabeth Bowen, Benjamin Britten and her collection of Ladybird Books. Some of her observations on other topics are short but conjure up vivid pictures, such as in November she recorded: ‘RAINING. Sky like the inside of a saucepan.‘ (page 208) And in October: ‘THIS GOLDEN OCTOBER continues to drift slowly down like a twirling leaf.’  (page 186)

One of the things I like about this book is the passion with which Susan Hill writes and her strong opinions about books, writers, literary prizes, what makes a good reader and so on and so forth, that she has no qualms about expressing (and why should she?) You are left in no doubt about what she does and does not like. For example she likes Robert Louis Stevenson (so do I) and the way he cleverly and cunningly creates a sense of sinister and evil in his creation of Mr Hyde. She thinks he’s the ‘perfect writer’ (page 188) and describes him thus: ‘Next to Dickens, I think RLS was the greatest writer of his time.’ (page 54) She didn’t like fairy tales as a child (I did), describing fairies as

Wispy, wafty, wish-washy things. Nowhere near on a par with sprites and goblins, witches, wizards, trolls. As a child I lapped up stories about any of these. I can understand why I did not, and do not, have any patience with fairies and their stories. They are so colourless (despite Andrew Lang’s best attempts). So dull. Yes. Just dull. (page 21)

And yet as a child she also liked the Flower Fairies books by Cecily Mary Baker (as did I) and pored over their illustrations, but followed that up by describing them as ‘just an excuse for pretty pastel pictures.

She doesn’t like fantasy and science fiction, although as a child she loved fantasy. She likes, amongst others, Thomas Hardy, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Chandler, Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym, to a certain extent, describing her books as ‘dated, but not dated enough’, but not Jane Austen – oh my, I love Jane Austen’s books:

I read most of the reissued novels [of Pym’s] at the time and never entirely saw the point of the praise, probably because everyone compared them to Jane Austen and that is never a good recommendation to me. (page 200)

She then goes on to change her mind about Pym after reading Shirley Hazzard’s review of Pym’s Quartet in Autumn, which I haven’t read, but after reading her description I think I would like.

She has no interest left in the First World War, particularly in fiction about it (I have) since she wrote Strange Meeting in 1971, but she admires Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, but has ‘not even tried Parade’s End‘. She seems to have more time for the Second World War novels, praising Olivia Manning’s novels, the Balkan and Levant trilogies, which reminds  me I still haven’t read the third book in the Balkan Trilogy.

She is scathing about creative writing courses: ‘I don’t suppose anything is obligatory for these courses, which are as thick as autumn leaves on the ground. Writing is the thing. Ye gods.’ (page 189)

There’s plenty more on the same lines about other authors and books – there are many, many more that I could mention – and I found it all fascinating, rambling and chatty, a bit repetitive in parts, but still fascinating. And there is a list of the books she refers to at the end of the book. It’s probably a book that could stand a second reading.

And as she says:

Reading is magic. Books are magic. It starts when we are shown picture books and realise there is another world beyond the everyday one we know. Once we can read ourselves, we live inside the magic. The only problem is that we have to emerge at the end of a book, and we don’t want to return to that dull domestic world we know. The only solution to that problem, of course, is that there is always the next book, and the next and there is bonus magic if it is another in a series we already love, so we are plunging back into a magic other world but one we already know. We feel a lift of the heart, a lurch of the stomach, when we find ourselves in it again. (pages 55 – 56)

Yes, reading is, indeed, magic!

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (5 Oct. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781781250808
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781250808
  • ASIN: 1781250804
  • Source: a library book
  • My Rating: 5*