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A novel of great sensitivity and descriptive power set in the 1880s that takes the reader from the ordered existence of Victorian London to the South African frontier at the height of the diamond rush. Frances Irvine, young, impressionable and left without means on the sudden death of a bankrupt father, embarks on a voyage to the Cape to marry a distant cousin, Edwin, now a doctor working in the Kimberley diamond fields. The passage out, on the Union Line `Cambrian', with its rigid class divisions mirroring the Victorian society Frances is leaving behind, offers the exciting prospect of a shipboard romance with William that the unversed Frances is unable to resist, and is to drastically affect her future. The triangular relationship between Frances, Edwin and William, is thus set and forms the framework for the rest of the novel in South Africa, where a totally strange and harsh environment help to transform a confused and self-deluded young woman into an adult, mature woman.
It is in describing this environment that McVeigh's skills as a writer are so evident. In particular, I would note her depiction of life in the Karoo, the high tableland of the Northern Cape, with its bitterly cold mornings, intense heat at midday and abundant insect life: a hostile, but strangely attractive environment in which people like the Boer Reitz family struggle to make a living during long periods of drought. She contrasts the purity of the veldt with the hell that greedy and ambitious men have created further north, in Kimberley. McVeigh's description of the Big Hole, with workers labouring like ants in the bowels of the earth, fully captures the horror of labouring conditions at the height of the diamond rush. An actual event, the smallpox epidemic of 1883/4, and efforts of mineowners to hush this up, with the connivance of local doctors, is used by the author as a symbol reflecting the difference between William, the servant of the mineowners, and Edwin, the doctor who seeks to expose the truth about the epidemic and the indifference to human life shown by those who seek to cover it up.
An outstanding novel, highly recommended.
The Fever Tree is a first novel by Jennifer McVeigh and I hope she goes on to write many more novels of this quality. I look forward to reading more from her.
The Fever Tree is set in the 1880's and begins its journey in London with our main character, Francis Irvine. Francis finds herself with a very difficult decision to make following the untimely death of her father, should she live as a nurse maid with her Aunt or shall she move to the Cape to live as the wife of a man she dislikes? After deciding that emigrating to Cape is the option she will go with Francis begins her long trip to a new life. During the journey Francis meets another gentleman who has all the wealth and privileges she was used to prior to her father's death, Francis encounters a passion she has never before experienced but she is already promised to be married to a doctor who is awaiting her arrival. When she arrives the Cape seems to her to be another planet due to the contrast of the way of life between her old life and new life. The diamond mines are the main earner and Francis soon comes to see the horrific consequences greed has to the less wealthy. Francis has a hard time adjusting to life in a foreign country as a wife to someone with such strong beliefs and she feels such shame about her desire to be with someone else. Can Francis ever come to terms with such a devastating change to her life where destroying human life seems to be the only route to power and riches.
I think this book seems to be a fight between pride, power and survival with a young naive woman lost in the middle trying to find her place in life.
This book to me is a fabulous story, it is so heartfelt. I really found myself feeling and thinking hard about the emotions Francis was feeling. I really enjoyed reading this book from the very first page to the last page. I felt the emotions written in were immense.
I found this book to be easy reading, really enjoyable and very interesting. The way McVeigh writes her novel I could easily picture in my mind every scene she was trying to set which at times was not pleasant due to the undesirable areas this book walks us through.
With love, drama and excitement I found myself flying through this book always wanting to know what was going to happen next. It is the only book where I have gotten to the end and been disappointed that it had ended, I was enjoying the story so much that I just wanted to keep reading more.
I have already recommended this book to so many people so I would definitely be recommending this book to anyone and everyone.
The Fever Tree is due to be published by Viking on 29th March 2012. I have had a quick look around to see what prices are being asked for this book and the prices range from £8 to £13. This was a fabulous book but I think those prices are a little steep, I tend to stick to paying below £6 for a book.
This review can also be found on Ciao under the same name. Thank you for reading.