The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies was published this summer after being widely read throughout the UK. The story follows Gwen, who upon meeting the widower Laurence gets married and moves to Ceylon where he owns a tea plantation. The perfect, idyllic life right? Not quite. Ceylon has secrets. The biggest mystery being what happened to Laurence’s first wife.
Gwen is isolated in Ceylon, far from any of the familiar family and friends she has grown up with in England. She is a young naive bride who has found herself in over her head. Her husband is acting strange and her new sister-in-law Verity is jealous, resenting Gwen for her intrusion into she and her brother’s lives.
It is the 1920’s and there is considerable turmoil in Ceylon, as racial lines are challenged and pushed between the Tamil and Sinhalese. The tea plantation could not exist without the help of servants, so this revolution lands right in the family’s lap. How will Gwen reconcile her own morality with Ceylon’s colonial past?
I was initially pulled to this book by its exotic setting and Gothic theme. I loved Rebecca and Jane Eyre so I thought this book would be a home run. While the writing was exquisite, glazed and gilded like a Victorian tea pot, the characters simply fell flat and colorless in the background. Notably, Gwen cried. A lot. I felt that Jefferies could have found other ways to convey sadness, and it was difficult for me to feel attracted to the protagonist when she wept like a leaky faucet. Also the children in the story did not act their age. The actions of one particularly advanced three year old did not reflect the developmental maturity of any children I certainly know, so that made it difficult for me to believe the characters.
There were other similar events, but I won’t share them here because I don’t want to give any spoilers. However if you require strong, believable characters in order to enjoy a story this may be one you wish to bypass. Overall the book gets 2 out of 5 stars for its beautiful setting but lack of character development.
*Thank you to Blogging for Books and the author for providing me with a free copy in exchange for a honest review. All opinions stated here are my own.