The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dina Jefferies is a Rebecca meets Jane Eyre set in Ceylon in early twentieth century.
As a historical novel, Jefferies has done a wonderful job of recreating the Ceylon of the 1920s and ’30s vivid detail, both in terms of the lush physical setting and the cultural milieu. The author does so cleanly by integrating the details into the action and character development, so the reader isn’t tempted to skip paragraphs in order to “get back to the story.”
Another aspect that I appreciated was the raw and honest look at a loving marriage. While there are many secrets and lies in Gwen and Laurence’s marriage, they truly love each other. The readers sees that not only in the sacrifices the characters make, but also in the physical love they have for each other, which I found very refreshing. Often, it seems that the last “taboo” in novels is sexual delight between married people. That said, there are many frank instances of sex between the couple, but the scenes avoid eroticism.
The only difficulty I had with the novel was that the author occasionally lapsed into telling the reader things that could be gleaned from the text. Though that happened less often in the second half of the novel.
All in all, a very enjoyable book. I’d give it 4.5 stars. And I’ll definitely read other novels by this author.