What’s it all about?:
A sweeping, breath-taking story of love and betrayal from the Number One Sunday Times bestselling author of The Tea Planter’s Wife.
Ceylon, 1935. Louisa Reeve, the daughter of a successful British gem trader, and her husband Elliot, a charming, thrill-seeking businessman, seem like the couple who have it all. Except what they long for more than anything: a child.
While Louisa struggles with miscarriages, Elliot is increasingly absent, spending much of his time at a nearby cinnamon plantation, overlooking the Indian ocean. After his sudden death, Louisa is left alone to solve the mystery he left behind. Revisiting the plantation at Cinnamon Hills, she finds herself unexpectedly drawn towards the owner Leo, a rugged outdoors man with a chequered past. The plantation casts a spell, but all is not as it seems. And when Elliot’s shocking betrayal is revealed, Louisa has only Leo to turn to…
What did I think?:
The Sapphire Widow is one of the books picked by Richard and Judy for their Summer Book Club list this year and I was delighted to see it there having thoroughly enjoyed one of Dinah Jefferies’ previous novels, The Teaplanter’s Wife which I read and reviewed with my sister, Chrissi Reads. However, I finished this book feeling generally disappointed and a bit deflated, despite the number of very positive reviews it has on Goodreads and from my fellow bloggers. There are some wonderfully positive things about this novel, I hasten to add (and will mention them later) but for me, it was ultimately far too predictable. I hate to say but it was almost as if I didn’t need to read until the end, I could have told you what was going to happen much earlier than that.
Dinah Jefferies, author of The Sapphire Widow.
This novel is a work of historical fiction set in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the mid 1930’s. We follow a young woman called Louisa Reeve in the early years of her marriage to Elliot as they struggle with devastating multiple miscarriages. When Elliott meets an untimely end, Louisa is forced to forge through life on her own, all her previous dreams and wishes appearing to be null and void. She must also grapple with the huge and life-changing secrets that Elliott has left behind after his death and wonders if she ever really knew her husband at all.
I think that synopsis says pretty much everything I’d like to say – I don’t think it’s a spoiler to talk about Elliot’s death to be fair, I mean shouldn’t the title of the book give a little bit of a clue? Anyway, first I want to talk about the positives because there were some very pleasing things about this novel that I enjoyed and has led to me giving it the eventual rating that I have. First of all, Dinah Jefferies is a wonder with creating a setting. The beautiful Ceylon scenery, the animals, the weather, everything is written so evocatively that you can almost imagine yourself there, the heat bearing down, the strong smell of the spices and the sound of the exotic creatures that call Ceylon their home.
Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where The Sapphire Widow is set.
This is an author who has been there, done that and can create a sense of place in such vivid historical detail that you are right there with our characters, seeing what they see and feeling what they feel. It’s one of the reasons why I feel so bad for having ANY criticism of this novel at all, there’s an obvious audience out there that it would resonate much more with than myself and who might enjoy the whole romance and predictability of the situation! Sadly, that just wasn’t me. I have to admit, I was initially wary when I began this novel as you are immediately told the nature of our female lead’s multiple miscarriages. As something I’ve struggled with myself, I was concerned that it would be too hard to read but luckily, I ended up coping well.
Louisa was a perfectly likeable character and I enjoyed how her nature developed into something much more independent and stoic, despite her major hardships in life when she is forced to confront her darkest fears. However, one of my pet peeves in any novel is predictability and that has a huge effect on how much I enjoy a novel as a whole. I’m certainly not going to go into any spoiler territory at all but I was so disappointed that I could literally predict every single little thing that was going to happen to Louisa many chapters before it happened. Unfortunately, this meant that when these events did occur, the whole surprise and spontaneity of the narrative was completely lost and in turn, it lost me as a reader because of this. I’d have loved it if the author turned things around, threw us some red herrings, took the story in a direction we weren’t expecting, surprised us a little bit?
And yes, yes I know, this isn’t a thriller or even a work of crime. It’s a beautifully descriptive historical fiction that plonks the reader straight into 1930’s Ceylon. I get that. It’s just a shame as I mentioned before, to read a story where you already know the story before you’ve finished it, if that makes any sense? However, if you’re looking for a gorgeously detailed love story with a pleasant female lead and some interesting character development, look no further. I’m sure Dinah Jefferies will continue to delight her current fans and manage to amass many more. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you think!
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):