Title: The Tea Planter’s Wife
Author: Dinah Jefferies
Publication date: 3 September 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5
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?
The Tea Planter’s Wife is a story of guilt, betrayal and untold secrets vividly and entrancingly set in colonial era Ceylon.
The Tea Planter’s Wife is a tale of a time gone by, when English tea-planters descended on Ceylon in order to try their hand at tea production. Set in the 1920s, it tells of life and society in colonial Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
It is the tale of Gwen Hooper, a 19 year old woman who leaves England in order to travel the long journey alone to meet her tea-planter husband Laurence and start her new life at his plantation in Ceylon.
Upon her arrival, Gwen finds that the man she married is not how she remembers and married life is not quite what she imagined. After the initial excitement of her arrival, Gwen finds herself confused by her husband’s shifting moods and intermittent indifference.
As Gwen struggles to settle into life in Ceylon, she soon finds herself facing resentment, hardship and loneliness. This was not the life she imagined for herself as wife and mistress of the plantation.
The tale flows through a chain of events that will leave the reader gripped – there are monsoons, uprisings, family dramas and more!
I found it interesting to read about the workings of tea plantations and, particularly, the hierarchical system found amongst workers on the plantation. The book contained just enough information to give the story a sense of authenticity. I found myself absorbed by the exotic imaginings of life in Ceylon and I was interested to understand the transfer of British social norms into colonial life and society.
I thought the characterisation was well done. Gwen is an interesting heroine. We see her arriving in Ceylon as a naïve, enthusiastic and optimistic young woman, looking forward to the adventure that awaits her in a new land. Over the course of the story, we see her gradually become more worldly and weary as life seems to throws unending difficulties and hardships at her. The supporting characters – Laurence, sophisticated New Yorker Christina, Laurence’s sister Verity and the charming Savi Ravasinghe – are all intriguing. The author slowly peels back the layers to the characters, revealing the guilt, heartbreak, cunning and betrayal lurking beneath the surface.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The Tea Planter’s Wife is a story of love, secrets and betrayal, full of twists and turns that will keep the reader gripped. It is a haunting, evocative and thought-provoking read which will give you a feel for colonial life in the 1920s. I would recommend it to lovers of historical fiction/romance.
Thank you to Penguin for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author
Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaysia and moved to England at the age of nine. She has worked in education, lived in a commune and exhibited work as an artist. Dinah’s first novel,The Separation, was published by Viking in 2014; The Tea Planter’s Wife is her second novel. She is a contributor to the Guardian and other newspapers and lives in Gloucestershire with her husband