I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, despite the fact that it made me deeply uncomfortable for all 413 pages of it. Set in (British) Ceylon, current Sri Lanka, in the 1920’s/30’s, the novel covers many fascinating aspects of that era: plantation life, segregation, sexism, disease, prohibition, and the far-flung effects of the Wall Street Crash in America. Although these topics are not new by any means, this book is unique because it takes place in such a lush and exotic country.
Jefferies does a good job of keeping these topics in the background (and not overwhelming the reader) by navigating the story through the eyes of Gwen Hooper, new wife to the widowed Laurence, owner of a vast Ceylon tea empire. Gwen is just 19 at the start of the book. Laurence is almost double her age and, along with the sprawling plantation, comes with a sad backstory and a meddling sister. In addition, the nearby capital of Colombo is in the middle of a brutal revolution. There are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong in this story and oh, do they.
Gwen’s naivety keeps readers from discovering things that will later prove to be important. This is what gives the story its unsettling feeling. As the reader, you know that horrible things are afoot. But, the characters in the book keep behaving as if things are normal or ignoring warning signs. The effect is that you’re always in the dark, feeling like something bad is about to happen. If this were a movie, you’d probably find yourself yelling at the screen. “The Tea Planter’s Wife” is masterfully written. You can tell that Jefferies did her research; ensuring readers would become immersed in Ceylon culture. I look forward to reading more books by her.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.