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:

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves

Cold Earth is the seventh book in Ann Cleeves’ bestselling Shetland series

Cold Earth (Shetland Island, #7)

Blurb:

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main Lerwick-Sumburgh road and sweeps down to the sea.

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and peaty water smash through a croft house in its path. Everyone thinks the croft is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. In his mind, she shares his Mediterranean ancestry and soon he becomes obsessed with tracing her identity.

Then it emerges that she was already dead before the landslide hit the house. Perez knows he must find out who she was, and how she died.

My thoughts:

I loved the first 6 books in the Shetland series and Cold Earth is no exception. It works on all levels – a murder mystery to solve, with beautiful descriptions of the landscape, conveying a real sense of place, convincing characters with realistic dialogue, a well paced plot and above all a writing style that doesn’t intrude on the story, but leads you to keep on turning the pages from the beginning to the end. I featured this book in this My Friday post, quoting the opening sentence and a teaser from page 56.

The dead woman’s identity puzzles everyone on the island, although one person must know who she is as among the things found in the debris left in the croft is an unsigned letter addressed to Alis saying what a joy it is to welcome her back to the island.  Perez felt her exotic appearance and black hair and eyes could indicate that like him she was of Spanish descent. He and Sandy Wilson, his sergeant are joined by Chief Inspector Willow Reeves (originally from the Hebrides) from the Inverness team to head up the investigation. Perez is both troubled and distracted by her, but realises just how much he wants her to be in Shetland with him running the investigation.

As usual Perez works very much on his own, but Sandy is gaining more confidence in his detecting skills and helped by Perez he makes a valuable contribution, as they eventually discover the identity of the dead woman, why she was on the island and why she was killed.

If you haven’t read any of the Shetland books, but have seen the TV series, you’ll notice that there are some significant changes – notably in the characters of Cassie, Fran’s daughter who is still a child in the books but has grown up in the TV stories, and the relationship between her father, Duncan Hunter and Perez. And Douglas Henshall, who plays the part of Perez, is not physically like Jimmy Perez – Perez has long dark hair with Spanish ancestry in his blood, whereas Douglas Henshall is a redheaded Scot.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2376 KB
  • Print Length: 401 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1447278216
  • Publisher: Macmillan; Main Market edition (6 Oct. 2016)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating: 4*

The Shetland Series – the books read well as stand-alones, but I think it’s better to read them in order as you can then follow the development of the main characters.:

Challenges:

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

The Glass Woman

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

What’s In a Name? Update

WhatsinaName14

When I decided to do this year’s What’s In a Name?Challenge I didn’t have any books in the category of a book with a meal in the title. So I decided to see what my local library had to offer and came up with three books and reserved all three – of course they all turned up quickly almost all at once and I now have them here waiting to be read. And I can’t decide which one to read first – should it be breakfast, tea, or a feast?

The shortest is Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – Holly Golightly in 1940s New York, pursued by gangsters and playboy millionaires. There are also three short stories in this book, House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory.

Or should I read A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway first? According to the back cover this book ‘brilliantly evokes the exuberant mood of Paris after the First World War, and the unbridled creativity and unquenchable enthusiasm that Hemingway himself epitomised.’

I am actually drawn more to reading the longest book first – The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies – historical fiction set in Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) in the 1920s and 30s. Nineteen year old Gwendolyn Hooper arrived from  England eager to join her husband, Laurence, but he was away working, leaving her alone to explore the vast tea plantation. She wanders into forbidden places and finds clues to a hidden unspeakable past.

What do you think? Have you read any of them? Which one would you read first?

What’s In a Name? 2019

WhatsinaName14

This year the What’s In A Name reading challenge is being hosted by Andrea at The Carolina Book Nook.

The challenge extends from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019.  You can sign up any time, but only count books that you read between those dates.

Read a book in any format (hard copy, ebook, audio) with a title that fits in each category.

Don’t use the same book for more than one category.

Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!

You can choose your books as you go or make a list ahead of time.

Here are the categories listing the books I already own (so they will also qualify for the  Mount TBR 2019  too):

What’s In a Name 2018: Wrap Up Post

What's In A Name 2018 logo

I nearly completed the What’s In a Name Challenge 2018, hosted by Charlie at The Worm Hole. The challenge ran from January to December. During that time the challenge was to read six books, each with a title including the following words:

These are the books I read, linked to my reviews.

The word ‘the’ used twice

fruit or vegetable 

A title which has a shape in it

title that begins with Z – can be after ‘The’ or ‘A’ 

  • I began reading Zoo Time by Harold Jacobson early in the year, but it wasn’t appealing to me at the time and put it back on the shelf. Recently I’ve picked it up again but I’m not sure I shall carry on with it.

nationality

season

I enjoyed the books I finished reading, especially The Grapes of Wrath. My thanks to Charlie for hosting this challenge.

My sign up post for What’s In a Name? 2019 with a new host, Andrea at The Carolina Book Nook will follow tomorrow.

Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell

Italian Shoes

I decided to read Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson, after reading After the Fire his second book about Frederick Welin.  The events in Italian Shoes take place eight years earlier and explains in more detail Welin’s background and why he lives in self-imposed exile on an island in the Swedish archipelago. The two books can be read as standalones, but I think it would be better to read them in order to make a complete whole. These books are not Kurt Wallender mysteries but are character studies of a man living on his own, trying to come to terms with his past and reflecting on ageing and death. He cuts a hole in the ice every morning and lowers himself into the freezing water to remind himself that he is alive.

If this description makes Welin sound cold that is because he is a loner and finds it difficult to open himself up to others. He is sixty six, lives alone, apart from his cat and his dog, both of them old and dying, and he has no real friends. There is Jansson, a hypochondriac, the  postman who visits daily, but Welin doesn’t like him. He has come to a point in his life when he can’t decide what to do but suspects that his life would continue in the same way and nothing would change.

How wrong he was! That January after a snowstorm he saw a figure standing out on the ice motionless leaning on a Zimmer frame three nautical miles from the mainland. It was Harriet, the woman he had loved and abandoned nearly 40 years earlier, leaving her without any explanation. From that point onwards his life changes dramatically, for Harriet is terminally ill and wants him to take her to a small lake in northern Sweden, hidden deep in the forest; a place Welin’s father took him to once as a boy. But there are more revelations and he is forced to face the mistakes he made in the past.

The book is written in four parts, or Movements – Ice, the winter in which Welin is frozen both in his emotions and feelings, The Forest, the spring as his life and feelings begin to emerge, The Sea as his life begins to change and finally, Winter Solstice as the days start to lengthen and Welin’s new life actually begins.

I was puzzled at first by two things – the title, Italian Shoes, which seemed to be at odds with the book’s description about a man living on his own in the Swedish archipelago. the first clue comes with the quotation at the beginning of the book from Chuang Chou:

When the shoe fits, you don’t think about the feet.

Feet and shoes are mention several times throughout the book – Welin wears cut-off wellington boots most of the time – Harriet used to work in a shoe shop – and an Italian shoemaker who lives in the forest promises to make him a pair of shoes.

The second thing that made me wonder is the presence of a gigantic anthill in Welin’s living room. I do not like ants at all and the thought of an anthill next to a table in the middle of the room, almost as high as the table, swallowing up the cloth hanging down over the edge is horrific. It has been there for eleven years, containing maybe a million or more ants and Welin does not want to part with it – until the end of the book. I decided it symbolised his  inertia during the time it had been growing and he watched the ants at work. Its removal signified the change that takes place in his life.

Although this is a dark and melancholy book, as it progresses Welin begins to come to life again and to interact with others, taking responsibility for his past actions. It’s a beautifully written book, with vivid descriptions of the settings and the weather and I found it absolutely fascinating.

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with a nationality in the title. It’s also one of my TBRs.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 783 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0099548364
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (2 April 2009)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating: 4*