When I received The Tea Planter’s Wife in the mail, I was struck at how beautiful the cover of the book is. The woman in the foreground and her beautiful golden dress melt into the luscious landscape behind her and are enhanced by the palm tree leaves peeking out from the edges. It immediately transported me to the hills of 1920s Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and made me want to read more about the women gazing pensively at her hands on that balcony.
The novel more than followed-through on the cover’s promises and left me wanting to read all three of Dinah Jefferies’ other novels as soon as I can find the time. Read my review of The Tea Planter’s Wife below.
The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies
When I first read the plot synopsis of The Tea Planter’s Wife, I thought that the book would be about a failed marriage. It’s actually a series of love stories – romantic, parental and also geographical (between the characters and the beautiful setting of Ceylon). The novel’s main character, Gwendolyn , falls in love with Laurence Hooper, a tea plantation owner who is several years her senior. Theirs is a true romance, not an arranged marriage. Gwendolyn arrives in Ceylon to run their home and live her life alongside her husband. Once in Ceylon, however, her reality is far from what Gwendolyn expected. As her husband begins to turn inward and as supporting characters start to intervene in their marriage (Laurence’s dependent sister and a former flame), Gwendolyn suspects a secret past may be weighing on her husband’s heart.
What I Liked
The writing in The Tea Planter’s Wife is simply beautiful. Jefferies’ descriptions of Ceylon, down to its sticky hot climate and the fauna that surrounds the Hooper plantation, is transporting. The reader really feels like they’re in the hilly forest setting, exploring with Gwendolyn and experiencing monsoons for the first time as she does.
I felt that though Jefferies delivered beautiful lyrical descriptions of the landscape, her dialogue and interactions between her characters were kept realistic and raw. The varying tension between Laurence and Gwendolyn due to their distrust of each other is poignantly delivered, and the reader suffers with Gwendolyn as she struggles with whether to be direct or not with her husband.
There was a major twist about a third into the novel that was somewhat foreshadowed but still came as a shock. I think the plot teasers you can find online or on the book itself suggest that Laurence has a secret, but it turns out that pretty much every major character in the novel actually does. Jefferies is able to reveal the various mysteries little piece by little piece, in surprising dribbles of truth that keep the reader engaged throughout.
The novel also delves into some heavier issues of racial discrimination that are inherent in the colonial reality in which the novel is set. The reader sees the beginning of the strains and rebellions which foreshadow the impending overthrow of colonial control and looming independence. There are many expertly crafted secondary characters that are part of the native population – like Naveena, the trusted and selfless housekeeper that Gwendolyn comes to rely on in her troubles. The issue of racial discrimination is actually woven right into the main plot of the book, but I don’t want to spoil anything, so you’ll have to read the novel for yourself to find out how.
I would recommend the novel in a second to anyone who enjoys historical fiction as well as well-crafted literary fiction in general.
What I Didn’t Like
Not much. The book was pretty near perfect. I would say that the last third of it could have maybe been shortened a bit and moved a little faster.
I loved The Tea Planter’s Wife. If you’re at all intrigued by the book make sure to pick it up. True romance, secrets, lies, consuming guilt and interfering sisters in law, all set in a luscious landscape – what more can you ask for?
About The Author
Dinah Jefferies was born in 1948 in the former Federation of Malaya, in Malacca, which is now a state in Malaysia. She moved to England as a child in the 1950s and earned a degree in English Literature at the University of Ulster. She worked as a teacher before starting to write. She has completed four full-length novels to date. The Tea Planter’s Wife in particular has had significant success – it was on the Sunday Times best seller list for 16 consecutive weeks.
Other Books By Dinah Jefferies
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. This post includes affiliate links from Book Depository.