All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Tea Gardens by Fiona McIntosh

on June 25, 2018

The Tea Gardens
Fiona McIntosh
Penguin Random House AUS
2017, 394p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Dr Isla Fenwick has a life that most modern women of 1933 might envy – her career gives her status, her pedigree adds freedom, and her oldest crush, Jovian Mandeville, has reappeared in her life with a marriage proposal.

Her life is beginning to feel complete. However, she insists on keeping a private promise she made to her late mother to work at the coalface of medicine in India before committing to life as a dutiful wife. With Jove’s blessing, Isla sails to Calcutta to set up a new midwifery clinic. What she can’t anticipate is how India will test everything she relies upon within, challenging her professionalism and her loyalties.

But it is the fateful meeting of enigmatic Professor Saxon Vickery that will call into question what she trusts most about herself. When the pair travel into the foothills of the Himalaya for a stay on a tea plantation outside Darjeeling, Isla must make the most important choice of her life. And at the roof of the world – where heaven and earth collide – a price will be exacted for glimpsing heaven.

From England’s squally seaside town of Brighton to India’s slums of Calcutta and breathtaking Himalayan mountains, this is a heartbreaking story about the pursuit of passion by the bestselling author of The Chocolate Tin.

I’m not sure when I bought this book but I do remember that it was one of my ‘Blind Date With A Book’ purchases from a local book store. If I remember correctly, the three ‘hook’ words written on the cover were: Tea, Romance, Himalayas. Now all three of those things are my jam. I love tea – in fact at my new home I have an entire cupboard devoted just to tea and my fancy teacups. I have about nine different varieties of tea at the moment that I drink at different times or when I’m in different moods. Although I like tea (a lot) I wouldn’t say I’m a connoisseur but I’m always interested in learning more. I’ve read a book or two focusing around tea plantations in Darjeeling and so for me, that was primarily what I was interested in when I picked up this book.

Isla is a single woman who is almost 30 and a qualified doctor working in obstetrics. She has a particular interest in both tropical diseases and working in India, perhaps because her mother died of tuberculosis. She wishes to go and work in India but her overprotective father has agreed only if she focuses on the obstetrics side, rather than getting involved with trying to eradicate diseases. One last wish her father has is that she marry so that he may rest easy and so he reintroduces her to Jovian Mandeville, her teenage crush.

Isla and Jove hit it off and agree that they will make each other very suitable spouses. Although Jove is fine with Isla going to work in India to live out her dream, he also extracts a promise from her, that she return by a certain date for their wedding, which will limit the time she has to really make a difference in India. Isla agrees however and she travels to India to begin working, an experience that is rocked for her when she meets tropical disease specialist Saxon.

The first half of this book was just okay for me. I didn’t mind it but it wasn’t really hooking me in to the story. I enjoyed Isla’s interest in her work and found some of that quite interesting but the whirlwind date with Jove was a bit much and I never really thought that I as the reader got to know Jove well enough. I know Isla had known him a long time but she was a child the last time she saw him and hadn’t seen him for many years. So really she didn’t know him anymore either. Isla either places a lot of trust in her father’s judgement or getting married was of such little importance to her that she really didn’t care who it was that she married.

I didn’t really feel that there was enough about being in India, perhaps because Isla lived in an area with many British (ie white) and socialised with them and I guess the experience of being there for many people of that time was that their down time was dominated by people a lot like them. There is definitely a local and cultural situation that Isla gets involved in, despite being warned against this by Saxon and it plays out with some very dire consequences that affect both Isla and Saxon. And for me, this is where I really started warming up to this story and becoming involved with it and invested in it. And it’s not too long after that where the setting moves to a tea plantation. I found all of the information about the tea and the descriptions of the area so wonderful, it was really interesting to me. I also warmed a bit more to the character of Isla and her reason for being at the tea plantation. There was a hopelessness to it, a sort of fait accompli but it didn’t stop me getting invested anyway. I absolutely loved the last probably third of the story and I think if it had all been set in that location, this would be in my top reads of the year.

Overall I enjoyed this but I did feel that it lagged for me in the first third to half of the book and I was really just looking forward to reading about tea and maybe my expectation of this book was a bit influenced by the three descriptive words on the wrapping paper. It made me think about what words I would’ve chosen to describe this and I don’t think I’d have emphasised tea because it takes so long for that to be a major part of the story. There was a lot of research done for this novel and I liked a lot of the information about women in medicine during this time as well as developing practices in obstetrics and the lurking threat of diseases like tuberculosis. All of that was quite interesting to me but I was honestly less taken with the Jove situation. I didn’t dislike him, there just wasn’t enough of him to like or dislike which made the ending a bit lacklustre.


Book #107 of 2018

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