I’ve been so busy of late I have barely had time to indulge in my favourite pastime of reading. I find when I get to this stage where I haven’t read for a while I procrastinate even more by being overly picky with the choice of the first one to break my book drought. I mean I have multiple unread books on my shelf but it’s that “i don’t have a thing to wear” syndrome . It needs to be the one to get me back into the swing of things.
A few months ago I was invited to the Penguin Bloggers Night where a group of us were treated to excerpts from a sparkling array of new reads by new authors and old. I left the evening happy but book-less as the press team had run out of take home book bundles from the night’s reads. One particular haunting reading from Jennifer McVeigh’s book The Fever Tree has since kept niggling at my subconscious – so I guess it was always going to be the one to break my dry spell.
The Fever Tree is set in the 1880s and takes us from the ordered existence of Victorian London sitting rooms to the South African frontier at the height of the diamond rush.
The novel centres around Frances Irvine a young and impressionable young girl who is left without means on the sudden death of a bankrupt father. Shunned by remaining family Francis’ only choice is to embark on a voyage to the Cape to marry a distant cousin, Edwin, now a doctor working in the Kimberley diamond fields. On the voyage out, Frances is recklessly swept up in a passionate and illicit love affair and she dreams that she has found an alternative to her loveless future with Edwin. Instead she is forced to travel deep into the desert to meet her fiancé, who is fighting to contain a smallpox epidemic.
Frances is met with a basic and rustic home in the harsh climate of the barren Karoo desert, strange animals on her doorstep and a difficult daily life as the realities of being a doctors wife in 18th century South Africa sets in. Along with Francis we are witness to the dangerous politics of the diamond industry, the greed of those in positions of power and the appalling ways in which native workers were abused and exploited. She finds her marriage to Edwin difficult in many ways, and yearns for the easy life that her lover on the voyage could provide her.
Adding more depth to the novel was that it was infact inspired by a 19th-century diary McVeigh found in the British Library written by a young doctor fighting to expose a cover-up by Cecil Rhodes over a smallpox epidemic in South Africa. McVeigh has taken this little-known aspect of British colonial history as the background for a historical saga set around the diamond mines of Kimberley.
Accustomed to historical novels as I am – the dark beauty of South Africa and the struggles and rewards of Francis and Edwin’s lives, the bravery of their neighbours setting up new lives in an inhospitable land and those who risked everything for the promise of wealth – left an indelible mark on my week.
Buy it, you will love it.
Author: Rohini Wahi
Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.
She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org