Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Tea Planter's Wife

Title:  The Tea Planter's Wife
Author:  Dinah Jefferies
Publication Information:  Crown. 2016. 432 pages.
ISBN:  0451495977 / 978-0451495976

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley and Shelf Awareness free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The woman held a slim white envelope to her lips."

Favorite Quote:  "Nobody had told her that being a mother would mean living with love so unqualified that it left you breathless, and fear so awful that it shook you to your soul. Nor had they said how close those two feelings were."

The Tea Planter's Wife is really the story of two wives and two marriages. The book starts off dramatically with the exit of one wife. The why and how are the prelude to the mystery of this book. The story then fast forwards about a decade as Gwen Hooper arrives to join her husband Laurence on his tea plantation in Ceylon. She is overwhelmed by a new place, a new culture, new expectations, and even by her husband who seems a different person.

Gwen adapts. Her oddly childish and vindictive sister in law Verity moves in. A local artist offers friendship and maybe something more. The plantation manager seeks to keep to the old ways. The plantation workers are sometimes hostile. She sees hints of Laurence's old wife all around and hints of the relationship between Laurence and an investor. Through it all, she slowly finds her place in her marriage and in her new home

A pregnancy adds further joy and anticipation to her life. Then, everything changes again. "Sometimes evens spiral out of control in ways we cannot foresee. It isn't necessarily a case for blame, but for realizing that even a slight lack of judiciousness can trigger something terrible." One decision leads to dire consequences. The progression of the story can be seen in the titles of the four main sections - The New Life, The Secret, The Struggle, and The Truth. Eventually, the answers to the first question of why and how tie into the culmination of the whole story.

The book is set in the beautiful tea plantations of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Unfortunately, this book is very much about the wealthy settlers who are the main characters. The book captures neither the landscape nor the people and culture. I love books set in places I have never visited; I enjoy learning about and being submerged into the culture. This book unfortunately does not depict that, making the setting almost irrelevant to the story.

The plot is based around genetic science. The book does not delve into the science, of course. Unfortunately, it oversimplifies it. It puts the science into such a melodramatic context that the plot seems far-fetched and unbelievable.

The motivations of certain characters are never explained. In particular, Naveena, the ayah, knows of the events of the past, and of events now. Perhaps, she sees a correlation. However, she never tells anyone. Perhaps, she has reasons not to. Unfortunately, the book never explains. The fact that no other character in the book, not even the ones against Gwen, tell her the story of Laurence's first wife also seems surprising. Why doesn't anyone tell Gwen? In the same way, Verity's actions and motivations are never explained. It seems she has a story behind their dramatic actions, but it is left unexplored except for a nod back to the genetics.

Finally, the book hinges on decisions a mother makes - life altering and heart wrenching decisions. Unfortunately, the emotions of the characters fail to connect. The emotions along with the plot get lost in the melodrama and fail to ring true, making this not the reading experience for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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