The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

Lights! Camera! Action!

I read a book, but it felt like a film. An epic that should really be seen on a big, big screen.

The opening scenes are set in England in the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Frances had been a cherished only daughter but her father’s sudden death has left her destitute. And now she is faced with a stark choice; she could become a virtual servant in her aunts household, or she could accept a proposal from a man she doesn’t love.

Frances chooses marriage.

The next scenes are set on board ship, as Frances travels to join her future husband in South Africa. She forms friendships other young women, travelling for very different reason, and she forms a passionate relationship with a man. He is charming, attractive, and terribly immoral.

And so we come to the scenes in South Africa.

Frances had expected to live in the city, to live a comfortable life and to enjoy a certain status as the wife of a doctor. But her husband has been posted to a remote outpost where he must try to keep the smallpox epidemic away from the diamond mines.

Frances struggle to cope with a life she had not expected, and she finds herself torn between two men, between her head and her heart.

She makes some terrible decisions, does some terrible things, quite oblivious to the consequences of her actions …

I wanted to shake her: she had such a wonderful spirit, but she was so, so unthinking. She needed to grow up. And maybe she would …

Her story was rather predictable, but it had so many wonderful details, so many twists and turns, that it really didn’t matter.

Times and places were brought to life quite wonderfully.

I learned much that I didn’t know. About the Victorian charity that sent young women to the colonies to do good and worthwhile works. About the harsh conditions on the diamond fields, and the appalling ways in which native workers were abused and exploited. About the struggles of doctors and nurses to stop the spread of terrible diseases …

I saw the darkness and the beauty of South Africa.

And I read a story that said so much about human relationships, about Victorian society, and about the history of a country. All held together with fine storytelling, elegant prose, and wonderful clearsightedness.

There were a few wrong notes, a few interesting angles under-explored, a few characters under-developed. The story still worked though.

The ending was dramatic – melodramatic even – but it was right.

And it would work beautifully on screen. I can see that closing montage in my head …

8 responses

  1. This sounds interesting. Not read any books where they have set sail for South Africa, it is normally the East and India they head to.

    Will look out for this one.

  2. Pingback: ‘The Fever Tree’, Jennifer McVeigh | Little Words Review

  3. Pingback: A gem of a historical romance out of Africa. « Gaskella

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