Friday 11 September 2015

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Today it is my stop on The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies blog tour which I am thrilled to be a part of because Dinah is an incredilbe writer and her new book has even been picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club. I am pleased to be able to share an extract from the book with you today.

Nothing had prepared her for the shock of Ceylon’s scorching heat, nor its clashing colours, nor the contrast between the bright white light and the depth of the shade. Noise bombarded her: bells, horns, people and buzzing insects surrounding her, swirling and eddying, until she felt as if she were being tipped about, like one of the pieces of flotsam she’d been watching earlier. When the background noise was eclipsed by loud trumpeting, she spun round to stare at the timber wharf, mesmerized by the sight of an elephant raising its trunk in the air and bellowing.
    When watching an elephant had become quite normal, she braved the Port Authority building, made arrangements for her trunk, then sat on a wooden bench in the hot steamy air with nothing but her hat to shade her, and with which, from time to time, she swatted the clusters of flies that crawled along her hairline. Laurence had promised to be at the dockside but, so far, there was no sign of him. She tried to recall what he’d said to do in the event of an emergency, and spotted Mr Ravasinghe again, making his way out of the second- class hatch in the side of the ship. By avoiding looking at the man, she hoped to hide her flush of embarrassment at her predicament, and turned the other way to watch the haphazard loading of tea chests on to a barge at the other end of the docks. 
   The smell of drains had long since overpowered the spicy fragrance of cinnamon, and now mingled with other rank odours: grease, bullock dung, rotting fish. And as the dockside filled with more disgruntled passengers being besieged by traders and hawkers peddling gemstones and silk, she felt sick with nerves. What would she do if Laurence didn’t come? He had promised. She was only nineteen, and he knew she’d never been further from Owl Tree Manor than a trip or two to London with Fran. Feeling very alone, her spirits sank. It was too bad her cousin hadn’t been able to travel out with her, but straight after the wedding Fran had been called away by her solicitor, and though Gwen would have entrusted Laurence with her life, all things considered, she couldn’t help feeling a bit upset. 
    A swarm of semi- naked brown- skinned children flitted among the crowd, offering bundles of cinnamon sticks, and with enormous, imploring eyes, begged for rupees. A child who couldn’t have been more than five pulled out a bundle for Gwen. She held it to her nose and sniffed. The child spoke, but it was gobbledegook to Gwen, and sadly she had no rupees to give the urchin, nor any English money either, now. 
   She stood and walked about. There was a brief gust of wind, and, from somewhere in the distance, came a troubling sound –  boom, boom, boom. Drums, she thought. Loud, but not quite loud enough to identify a regular beat. She didn’t wander far from the small case she’d left by the bench, and when she heard Mr Ravasinghe call out, she felt her forehead bead with perspiration. 
‘Mrs Hooper. You cannot leave your case unguarded.’ 
She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. ‘I was keeping my eye on it.’ 
‘People are poor and opportunistic. Come, I’ll carry your case and find you somewhere cooler to wait.’
‘You’re very kind.’ 
‘Not at all.’ He held her by the elbow with just his fingertips, and forged a path through the Port Authority building. ‘This is Church Street. Now look over there –  just at the edge of Gordon Gardens is the Suriya, or tulip tree as it is known.’ 
She glanced at the tree. Its fat trunk folded deeply like a woman’s skirt, and a canopy studded with bright orange bell- shaped flowers offered an oddly flaming kind of shade. 
‘It will provide a degree of cool, though with the afternoon heat coming on so strong, and the monsoon not yet arrived, you will find little relief.’ 
‘Really,’ she said. ‘There’s no need for you to stay with me.’ 
He smiled and his eyes narrowed. ‘I cannot leave you here alone, a penniless stranger in our city.’ 
Glad of his company, she smiled back. 
They walked across to the spot he’d indicated, and she spent another hour leaning against the tree, perspiring and dripping beneath her clothes, and wondering what she’d let herself in for by agreeing to live in Ceylon. The noise had amplified, and though he stood close, hemmed in by the crowds, he still had to shout to be heard.
‘If your husband has not arrived by three, I hope you won’t mind my suggesting you retire to the Galle Face Hotel to wait. It is airy, there are fans and soft drinks and you will be infinitely cooler.’ 
She hesitated, reluctant to leave the spot. ‘But how will Laurence know I’m there?’
‘He’ll know. Anyone British of any standing goes to the Galle Face.’ 
She glanced at the imposing fa├žade of the Grand Oriental.
 ‘Not there?’ 
‘Definitely not there. Trust me.’
 In the fierce brightness of the afternoon, the wind blew a cloud of grit into her face, sending tears streaming down her cheeks. She blinked rapidly, then rubbed her eyes, hoping she really could trust him. Perhaps he was right. A person could die in this heat. 
A short distance from where she stood, a tight bundle had formed beneath rows and rows of fluttering white ribbons strung across the street, and a man in brown robes, making a repetitive high- pitched sound, stood in the centre of a group of colourful women. Mr Ravasinghe saw Gwen watching. 
‘The monk is pirith chanting,’ he said. ‘It is often required at the deathbed to ensure a good passing. Here I think it is because great evil may have transpired at that spot, or at the very least a death. The monk is attempting to purify the place of any remaining malignancy by calling for the blessings of the gods. We believe in ghosts in Ceylon.’ 
‘You are all Buddhists?’ 
‘I myself am, but there are Hindus and Muslims too.’
‘And Christians?’ 
He inclined his head. 
When by three there was still no sign of Laurence, the man held out a hand and took a step away. ‘Well?’ 
 She nodded, and he called out to one of the rickshaw men, who wore very little more than a turban and a greasy- looking loincloth. 
She shuddered at how thin the man’s brown naked back was. ‘I’m surely not going in that?’ 
‘Would you prefer a bullock cart?’ 
She felt herself redden as she glanced at the heap of oval orange fruits piled up in a cart that had huge wooden wheels and a matted canopy.
 ‘I do beg your pardon, Mrs Hooper. I shouldn’t tease. Your husband uses carts to transport the tea chests. We would actually ride in a small buggy. Just the one bullock and with a shady palm- leaf hood.’ 
She pointed at the orange fruits. ‘What are those?’
‘King coconut. Only for the juice. Are you thirsty?’
 Even though she was, she shook her head. On the wall just behind Mr Ravasinghe, a large poster showed a dark- skinned woman balancing a wicker basket on her head and wearing a yellow and red sari. She had bare feet and gold bangles on her ankles and she wore a yellow headscarf. mazzawattee tea the poster proclaimed. Gwen’s hands grew clammy and a flood of sickening panic swept through her. She was very far from home. 
‘As you can see,’ Mr Ravasinghe was saying, ‘cars are few and far between, and a rickshaw is certainly faster. If you are unhappy, we can wait, and I’ll try to obtain a horse and carriage. Or, if it helps, I can accompany you in the rickshaw.’ 
At that moment, a large black car came hooting its way through the crowd of pedestrians, bicyclists, carts and carriages, only narrowly missing numerous sleeping dogs. Laurence, she thought with a surge of relief, but when she looked in through the window of the passing vehicle, she saw it contained only two large middle- aged European women. One turned to look at Gwen, her face a picture of disapproval. 
Right, Gwen thought, galvanized into action, a rickshaw it is.

MY REVIEW Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper steps off a steamer in Ceylon full of optimism, eager to join her new husband. But the man who greets her at the tea plantation is not the same one she fell in love with in London. 

Distant and brooding, Laurence spends long days wrapped up in his work, leaving his young bride to explore the plantation alone. It's a place filled with clues to the past - locked doors, a yellowed wedding dress in a dusty trunk, an overgrown grave hidden in the grounds, far too small for an adult... 

 Gwen soon falls pregnant and her husband is overjoyed, but she has little time to celebrate. In the delivery room the new mother is faced with a terrible choice, one she knows no one in her upper class set will understand - least of all Laurence. Forced to bury a secret at the heart of her marriage, Gwen is more isolated than ever. 

When the time comes, how will her husband ever understand what she has done?

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies took me on a cultural and atmospheric journey through Ceylon is the 1920’s. When our heroine Gwen arrives in Ceylon to begin her new life with her husband she doesn’t receive the welcome from him that she was expecting. Laurence works away a lot and so Gwen at only 19 years old finds herself alone with a lot of time on her hands and knowing very little about the culture in Ceylon or the running of the Tea Plantation but she is determined to find out more but she soon uncovers a hidden secret but as the storyline moves along poor Gwen is faced with a difficult decision which leaves her hiding a heartbreaking secret of her own.

The author’s knowledge and research shines through in this book from the vibrant and alluring descriptions of the landscape and the house which makes them easy to picture, to the method of tea production and also the cultural side of things back in Ceylon in the 1920’s. The author really piqued my interest throughout this book and I found it quite disturbing and eye opening to see the way things were back then especially the part about the crocodile bait, I was horrified! I love to read fiction books that manage to capture my interest, entertain me but also teach me something and this is exactly what happened whilst reading this book.

Each of the characters in this book were all so well drawn, Gwen who was our main character had a youthful vulnerability to her at the beginning of the book and as the storyline progressed we watch her grow as a character and certain events that she faces lead to her having to grow up quickly. I was wary of Laurence all the way through the book, at times he seemed like a perfect gentleman but because of secrets that were kept and because he was absent for long periods of time I was sure he had more to hide! Even the characters who I didn’t like such as Christina and Verity managed to bring an air of suspicion and helped to bring tension to the storyline.

The storyline flows at a very slow pace but I think this worked well for this detailed and evocative book but I did find the last third of the book I was eager for the story to move along a little more and for the pace to quicken but my interest was still held.

I was thoroughly immersed in this storyline and I thought it was a beautifully written book, although The Separation still remains my favourite by this author this book is still one I will be recommending.

Paperback                Kindle

The Lovely team at Penguin have generously offered me three copies of this book to giveaway.
This is a Uk and Ireland only giveaway this time.

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