As many of you know I am a big fan of historical fiction. I am always on the lookout for historical fiction that is set in a place and/or time that I don’t know much about. When I saw that The Tea Planter’s Wife is set in Ceylon in the 1920s, I knew I had to give it a go.
Author: Dinah Jefferies
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishing
#1 International bestselling novel set in 1920s Ceylon, about a young Englishwoman who marries a charming tea plantation owner and widower, only to discover he’s keeping terrible secrets about his past, including what happened to his first wife, that lead to devastating consequences
Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected.
The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous, and there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss.
Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever….
Set in Ceylon (under British colonial rule at the time – now Sri Lanka) in the 1920s, The Tea Planter’s Wife is a story of dark family secrets. The story opens with our main character, Gwen, arriving to Ceylon to join her new husband & start their new life on the tea plantation he runs.
The overall story concept behind The Tea Planter’s Wife was a good idea and COULD have worked, but unfortunately didn’t due to the execution. In my opinion, good historical fiction paints a picture of the era. The setting is crucial because it sets the tone for the story. If you are setting a story in Ceylon under British colonial rule in the 1920s, I want historical context so I feel like the story is in fact happening during that time & place. There was so much potential here to enhance the story by exploring topics like the tea making process, Ceylon’s culture, the racial tensions of the era between the British & the natives, etc. Unfortunately, Jeffries merely touches upon these topics, instead of exploring them further and interweaving them throughout the plot.
Let’s talk about the characters. NONE of the characters were likeable, not even the main character Gwen. Gwen was a very naïve character, and I found myself shaking my head at her decisions frequently. She also let people walk all over her throughout the entirety of the book, which is a fairly big pet peeve of mine. Typically with these types of characters we see a tremendous amount of personal development & growth by the end of the book, but unfortunately Gwen ended up being a static character. Laurence, her new husband, was a head scratcher too. He was so closed off for the majority of the book, distancing himself from his new wife for no apparent reason. At the end of the book he does give a lame excuse for being a royal ass to Gwen, but it was more of an afterthought. There was zero chemistry between the newlyweds, Gwen and Laurence, so the romance aspect of the book was far from believable. I also found the secondary characters more interesting than the primary characters, but alas there was not much development in those supporting roles. I would have liked more development in Savi, Fran, Naveena, or even Verity. At least these characters were interesting and not dull like Gwen & Laurence. All around the board the characters were very flat and lacked the complexity that gives them a realistic feeling.
Elements of the plot were just odd that gave the story a disordered feeling. This started off in the beginning with the prologue. I kept waiting to see where the story was going to come full circle, but it didn’t. It was really odd way to start off the book & didn’t really fit. There were lots of holes throughout the plot. Fran’s character pops in, but disappears. Gwen mentions her parents & her desires to see them, yet they never come. Also, there was a odd sex scene between Gwen & Laurence where he “lost control” and was too rough? Laurence basically rapes Gwen, but it’s never really mentioned afterwards? He just apologizes for being too rough? I wont even go into Laurence’s reveal at the end of the book. The plot was far too messy, making for a muddled reading experience.
Overall, this book was just not my cup of tea. Pun intended 🙂
As a teenager I missed the heat of Malaysia, which left me with a kind of restlessness that led to quite an unusual life. I went to live in Tuscany where I worked as an au-pair for an Italian countess, and there was even a time when I lived with a rock band in a ‘hippie’ commune in Suffolk.
In 1985, the death of my fourteen year old son changed everything. Although it was the darkest of times and I will always miss him, I’m grateful for the years we had together, and I now draw on the experience of loss in my writing. I set my books abroad and aim to infuse the love and loss with the extremely seductive beauty of the East.
My second novel, The Tea Planter’s Wife, was a Richard & Judy Book Club Autumn in 2015 pick as well as being number one in the Sunday Times Bestselling list. It also reached number 1 in the Italian eBook charts for that year. And those are somethings I’m absolutely delighted about. Book three, The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, was published in February 2016 and also entered Sunday Times Bestselling list as well as the best seller lists in Italy . Book four which is set in 1930s India, Before the Rains, was published in the UK February 2017 and this too entered the best seller lists for both hard copy and eBook in Italy. All my novels are published in the UK/Commonwealth by Penguin/Viking. My books have now been published in over 25 different countries across the globe and this number is still increasing.
Although my husband and I spent five wonderful years living in a small 16th Century village in Northern Andalusia, I’m happy to say we now live close to our family in Gloucestershire .