Latest review: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

By Ekta R. Garg

October 5, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction/romance

Rated: Borrow it

A young woman steps into the role of second wife to a widower. She deals with several challenges, including the mysterious circumstances of her husband’s first wife’s death. At some point she will need to dig deep and find the fortitude to deal with all the difficulties that come her way if she wants to thrive in a new country. Author Dinah Jefferies offers readers a bit of romance, intrigue, and family drama in the fairly decent novel The Tea Planter’s Wife.

In 1925 Gwen Hooper arrives by ship from England to join her new husband, Lawrence, on his tea plantation in Ceylon. Gwen’s nervous; she’s only ever known a charmed life in England, and now she’s leaving everything familiar for the grand adventure known as marriage. Lawrence swept her off her feet, and she’s a little giddy as she comes to her new home.

From the moment she first steps on shore, Ceylon charms Gwen. Although her marriage gets off to a shaky start, soon enough everything settles down. Instead, Gwen deals with life on the plantation. She pitches in to help with the household finances, and when Lawrence’s sister, Verity, comes to visit Gwen must handle Verity’s clinginess to Lawrence.

Verity starts spending more time on the plantation than what Gwen wants, but Lawrence tries to reassure her that Verity’s attachment can be contained. When Gwen becomes pregnant, she thinks a baby will help ease the tension in the house. A problem with her pregnancy drastically changes the trajectory of her emotional stability, and it leaves Gwen with doubts about whether she was ever suited to be the wife of a tea plantation owner. Civil unrest and challenges with native residents further complicate matters for the Hooper family, and through it all Gwen must fight with every ounce of courage and determination she can muster if she wants her marriage to be successful.

Author Dinah Jefferies’s novel will charm readers with its quiet tone and approach. Despite the stereotypes of the time period, Gwen doesn’t remain content to let her husband make all the decisions for her. Within the confines of what society allowed at the time, she takes charge of her own life and is willing to accept the consequences of her decisions. She’s also willing to change her mind if she feels her original decision is too heavy to bear.

The book in places comes across as muddy, however. One or two of the subplots that get a significant amount of time and space turn into limp matters by the end. Jefferies elects to take the easy way out in resolving them, which may make readers scratch their heads as to why the subplots were so important in the first place.

Also, marketing materials lead readers to believe that The Tea Planter’s Wife has shades of the classic novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. In reality the only major element common to both books is the fact that the protagonists marry widowers. Where Rebecca drilled into the mysterious disappearance of the first wife, The Tea Planter’s Wife explores life in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on the tea plantation and the challenges British wives faced in foreign countries. Readers coming to the latter book with the expectation that it will function as the former will be sadly disappointed.

Readers looking for books that balance romance and intrigue with just the slightest dash of melodrama will thoroughly enjoy The Tea Planter’s Wife. For most readers I recommend they Borrow it.

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