What’s it all about?:
1878. South Africa. A country torn apart by greed. Frances Irvine, left destitute by her father’s sudden death, is forced to travel from the security and familiarity of her privileged English life to marry Edwin Matthews, an ambitious but penniless young doctor in South Africa. They are posted to a smallpox station on the vast, inhospitable plains of the Karoo but she is so caught up in her own sense of entitlement and loss of status that she cannot recognise its hidden beauty nor the honour and integrity of the man she has married. All her hopes for happiness seem destroyed when her husband exposes the epidemic that is devastating the native community in the diamond-mining town of Kimberley. Here, the gleaming houses of the rich disguise the poverty of a labour force under coercion, and Frances is drawn into a ruthless world of wealth and opportunity, where influential men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Passionately caught up with the man her husband is fighting to bring down, she must make a fateful choice.
What did I think?:
This book was the final choice in the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club 2013, and definitely a good read. A lovely piece of historical fiction, it felt almost epic in the descriptions of the African landscape and people. You wouldn’t think while reading it that it was the author’s debut novel, and I became completely engrossed in the tale of Frances, orphaned by the death of her father and forced into marriage to a man she barely knows or likes. Coupled with that, she has to move to a foreign land, learn new customs and try to be a good wife. So, perhaps predictably, she meets an enigmatic gentleman on the ship crossing to Africa, falls head over heels for him, and wonders whether her soon-to- be marriage is a good idea.
Frances did annoy me ever so slightly – I understand that she was a young, naive girl but at times she seemed a bit wet and incredibly spoilt which got my “reading hackles” up. However, she did redeem herself a bit further along the story. What I did find interesting in this story is the real plight of mining for diamonds in Africa and at that time, how the native people were treated. It also reminded me of the recent film “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio which gave me a massive dose of education about the shifty, sometimes heart-breaking world of the procurement of diamonds. The author has obviously done her research on this subject and approaches it with maturity and sensitivity.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):