The Tea Planter's Wife
In the mood for escapism, I chose The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies which promised a perfect mixture of adventure, romance and mystery set in glittering Ceylon between the first and second world wars.
Nineteen year old newlywed Gwendoline joins Laurence, her charming and older husband in Ceylon, where he owns and runs a tea plantation in the hills. They have only known each other for a few months but are deeply in love. She is eager to start her perfect life as a model wife but soon learns it’s harder than she thinks as distressing clues about her husband’s past emerge, unrest grows among workers and aggression and jealousy simmers from her sister-in-law.
However, when she becomes pregnant all appears to be just right again. Complications during the birth mean that she must make a heart-breaking choice which she cannot reveal to her husband. As the secrets that Gwen and Laurence keep begin to unravel, the story took us through the contrasting life and attitudes during the final decades of British rule.
The book was well written and an easy read but the lack of character development for Gwen was disappointing. Although endearing, her naïve and at times self-centred voice was endearing at the age of nineteen but unrealistic for a woman in her 30s. In fact some of the supporting characters are more well-formed than Gwen. It was also a surprise that the book failed to transport any of us to Ceylon. Although it has all the right descriptions of the sounds, the smells, the people, you somehow cannot help but feel like a visitor in a well-constructed but ultimately fake Hollywood film set. If you want to be transported back through time and place, we would highly recommend East of the Sun by Julia Gregson.
Although overall we were not hugely impressed with the book, we were all pleased that we read it because it led us to choose Hoppers for dinner. A new hot spot in Soho, this tiny restaurant specialises in Sri Lankan street food, all centred around hopper – a bowl shaped fermented rice and coconut milk pancake – a national dish. Although we had to wait for a while for a table, the restaurant is conveniently located opposite Chotto Matte where we greatly enjoyed our cocktails! As usual we ordered liberally and all greatly enjoyed our food, spicy, bursting with flavours and incredibly fun! Real escapism at last! Meera, who has travelled to Sri Lanka extensively, thought that the level of spice had been watered down a notch or two to please Londoners’ palate, but overall she was impressed, the ultimate stamp of approval!
We will definitely visit again!
Chosen and Written by Katy.