Published by Penguin (Viking), August 27th, 418 pages, £3.85.
Quick Description: history, mystery, drama and romance in an exotic setting.
Plot: Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever . . .
This is such a great story!! Sooo much mystery… At a good 400 pages, it is not so much a saga that drags, but a good chunk of entertainment. It has really good pacing. Once the events start to unfold, I found myself digging ferociously a third into the novel.
First off the authors captures the POV of Gwen very well; a young English wife, still in her teens arriving in Ceylon to meet her husband, who she barely knows. So deeply in love with Laurence, her determination to become the perfect wife is very endearing. But her fears and anxieties are positively pulsing off the page, so much that the reader instantly cares about her and wants her to do well.
However, she is perfectly imperfect- if that makes sense. At times she is a selfless and courageous character who grows stronger from start to finish. Other times, she makes heavy mistakes (a massive one halfway into the novel) and spends the rest of the novel spiraling out of control to correct them. She is vulnerable to weak feelings like all-consuming jealousy and insecurity. After all who could really blame her? I kept having to remind myself that she is only 19 and having to deal with moving into a new world full of unanswered questions and secrets. Laurence got on my nerves a few times. I mean, why did the dude have to be so fricking distant all the time? You cannot just expect your new wife to arrive and not ‘interfere’ with everything. He did gradually get better and opened up. So the novel really did tease out the revelations.
Another wonderful thing was how I fell comfortably into the setting. There were so many vibrant places to imagine; the tea plantation and the bustling city in the 1920s. But it wasn’t just visual, the author conjured up the different aromas, temperatures and sounds. I actually felt at home with Gwen, in her house by the hills of tea fields. Real life events, like the violent racial tensions and the depression seep into Gwen’s everyday challenges. So there was an endless series of activity and hurdles to overcome for the couple. I also loved the other characters; Fran- Gwen’s cousin, Verity-Laurence’s sister (to name a few), who were all so different and eccentric in their own way. They really added their own colours to the mix.
The novel is also filled with so much sorrow and heart break. But it really isn’t a sob-fest. I don’t like those books, when you reach a depressing end, you think- what was the point of reading this? This book deals with sadness that is caused by very simple issues like miscommunication and insecurity. It is also caused by the dominating restrictions of society during that time. So who can really say they would not do the same unforgivable thing ? (got to read to find out;)) The novel really does leave you feeling just a little bit wiser.
Thank you Penguin, snagged my review copy during my intern days. xx