The fact it has taken me about five months to finish does not reflect the quality of writing or plot of this novel. Important lesson: do not begin a novel when five months pregnant. You may lack the concentration needed to read more than a few pages at a time.
London, 1880: When her father dies Frances Irvine discovers she has been left penniless. Even a genteel poverty dependent on her wealthy cousins is not possible. With limited options she accepts a marriage proposal and can’t help feel coerced into a frightful future.
South Africa 1880: Frances finds herself torn between two men, one earnest and honest, one dashing and prosperous. Caught up in disease, diamond mining and drought, can she find an acceptable future for herself?
First Impressions: I usually avoid historical fiction, particularly romantic historical fiction, as in my experience it usually turns out to be far too predictable and cliched. I may have just made poor selections in the past so any future suggestions are welcome! Based on past experiences I began this novel with a little trepidation but easily found myself hooked and enjoying the characters and how the story was progressing.
Highlights: Jennifer McVeigh was spot on with her tone and writing style. The Fever Tree reads like an authentic novel from the era. It reminded me of my post colonial literature studies at university and if only this could have been required reading! McVeigh also captured the plight of women and their lack of options well. However, the South African landscape is the real star of this novel.
If I was an editor: I would encourage more of the unpredictable but I think that is my expectation as a 21st century reader. The Fever Tree is a historical work. The ending is fitting but I still cannot decide if I like the resolution.
Overall: A concise historical saga. Yes, as advertised, it does have a Gone With the Wind feel. If you are interested in South Africa but want something less brutal than Coetee or Galgut this novel is for you. The Fever Tree has inspired me to sign up for the Africa Reading Challenge!
The Fever Tree: 4 stars