The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies
ARC, E-Book, 418 pages
September 13, 2016
Source: Requested for review from the publisher via Edelweiss
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 . . .Oh where to start with this one…
So, this book started out as a “buddy read” with my fellow blogger friends Erin, Stephanie, and Magdalena, it ended for all of us as a solo read because about two-thirds of the way through it bogged us down so much that no one really wanted to read any further. What was once a promising read at the very beginning and generated much discussion at the possibilities of what the resolution would be to the mystery that is introduced in the first pages, lost its way entirely somewhere around half-way. I hung on through the end because I really wanted to see how the mystery would play out and was left disappointed by the anticlimactic answer.
Let me start with a discussion of what I think the author succeeded in with this book. Prior to reading this book the most I knew about tea planting/harvesting was from a Snapple commercial where a little old man told me that “you pluck” tea leaves not pick them. I didn’t even have any idea where Ceylon was – that was the first thing that I needed to go look up with this book! By the end, I had a fairly clear idea of how a tea plantation would have been run during this time, some of the problems that they would have faced with the native laborers and their growing demands for change, and how they might have been effected by the Great Depression. I could envision how a plantation might look and to some extent draw the lines between the way the laborers/natives would have lived and how the British colonizers would have lived (although the native took less of a robust shape).
I have the idea that the author wanted to flesh out these divisions between the British and the natives as well as the civil unrest occurring between the Sinhalese and the Tamil, but this was less successfully done. The most significant takeaway that stands out in my mind was the upheaval over which language would be taught in school – which didn’t have anything to do with the story. We hear a lot about the improvements that are needed for the laborers or the demands their unions are making through conversations between Laurence and his overseer, but it never means a lot to the reader as we don’t experience it – tell less, show more. The only time we witness anything related to these issues are when two riots happen and out main cast just happens to be there, for the most part. We are left very distant from these issues and thus they don’t feel all that important.
My biggest struggles with this book were with regard to the characters and the basic forward movement of the plot in general. I literally found every character infuriating, especially the main character Gwen. She moves through most of the book in a distant state or at other times so overwrought and in her own world that I just could absolutely not connect with her in any way. Her sister-in-law, Verity, I wanted to smack several times. I wanted to shout for her to grow up and let go of her brother. Verity and Laurence (Gwen’s husband) always felt a little off to me – that something was being hidden was obvious and I changed my mind as to what it was many times.
The plot was boring and I hate saying that because based on the book blurb and the earliest chapters I didn’t think it would be that way. Right off the start we find out about the deaths which occurred earlier of two people close to Laurence, but everything is cloaked in mystery regarding what happened. No one wants to talk to Gwen about it, but she keeps finding little reminders of these people throughout the house and its grounds. There are so many questions and possibilities of what happened to these people and if someone had anything to do with their deaths (directly or indirectly) – but the author only briefly touches on these elements, it’s never a main plot point, which I think was a missed opportunity. Instead, we have Gwen existing at this plantation home, fighting off the sister-in-law who doesn’t know her place, trying to raise a son (sort of), and keep the attention of her husband who may or may not have a wandering eye. But the problem is, my description in the last sentence comes off even as more exciting than that plot actually was. Even with super short chapters, I was often bored to tears and would put the book down for days (and even weeks!) at a time before picking it back up. Our read-along came to feel as a chore to get the chapters done because we had nothing to discuss!!! At 98% of the way done with the book, I was sure that we had totally lost track of that mystery that began on page 1 and that I was not going to get any kind of resolution (which by that point was the only reason I was even still reading). Well, it had a resolution – a nice, quick, tied-with-a-bow resolution, that left we thinking, “that’s it?!? That’s what I read 418 pages for?!” I wanted SO much more from this plot – it felt like a husk that was missing the meat of the storyline.
Overall, I don’t think that I can comfortably recommend this book to others – I would hate to have them upset over the resolution as I was and to be blamed for sending them after the book in the first place. I only have myself to blame at this point. We quit reading this as a group somewhere around the two-thirds mark; to date 3 of the 4 of us have finished reading the book – you can read their take on the book at their sites, linked below.
Reviews of this book by other bloggers (The ladies that I “buddy read” this with):
- Flashlight Commentary (Erin)
- A Bookahaulic Swede (Magdalena)
- Layered Pages (Stephanie) – Review to Come
Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia
Also by Dinah Jefferies:
The Silk Merchant’s Daughter
Find Dinah Jefferies: Website | Facebook | Twitter
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