Of all the exotic Eastern settings in colonial times selected by Dinah Jefferies for her books, Ceylon in the 1930s is perhaps the most beautiful. Here we meet Louisa Reeve, living in a pleasant house with a handsome husband and her father living nearby. Having grown up on the island, she is happy to cycle round the 300 year old walled town of Galle, talking to the locals or to play with her three beautiful dogs but there is great sadness in her life; her daughter Julia was stillborn, and she has suffered two miscarriages. Husband, Elliot, is frequently away on business or out sailing and as a reader I instantly mistrusted him. Soon tragedy strikes and we learn of Elliot’s treachery. In contrast to the detailed description of the tropical landscape; the colourful hibiscus plants, the perfumed frangipani trees, the aroma of cinnamon bark, the cool waves of the Indian ocean, we also read of Louisa’s struggle to cope with suspicious men demanding money, an unkind mother-in-law and a revelation that causes her to doubt whether Elliot really loved her.
In order to survive, Louisa plans to open an emporium in an old print house and she approaches Leo McNairn, owner of a cinnamon plantation to offer a contract exporting his crop through her spice agency in Colombo. She finds Leo, a strong but rather sad man, unsettling, and she feels sure he knew more about her husband’s past. Circumstances throw them together, but an orphaned boy may separate them.
Many previous fans of Dinah Jefferies’ books seem disappointed by this novel, but I particularly enjoyed it, perhaps because I could identify with the lonely but independent, Louisa and the stories of other characters added interest and context to her tale.
The Sapphire Widow is available to purchase on Amazon UK
My review of The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies