book reviews

Book Review: The Tea Gardens





The Tea Gardens
Author: Fiona McIntosh
Published: 2017
Publisher: Penguin
My Rating: 4.5/5

A lively dash of adventure. A sweet pinch of spice. A dangerous twist of passion.

Spirited Doctor Isla Fenwick is determined to work at the coalface of medicine in India before committing to life as a dutiful wife. With hopes of making a difference in the world, she sails to Calcutta to set up a midwifery clinic. There she will be forced to question her beliefs, her professionalism and her romantic loyalties. 


The Tea Gardens by internationally best-selling author Fiona McIntosh, is a historical fiction novel set in the early 1930s. It takes you on a colourful journey from proper well-to-do London, to the slums of Calcutta, and beyond to the magical Himalayan mountains. And you will indeed be transported on each and every page thanks to Fiona’s brilliant use of colour, texture and smell. You will feel as if you are walking alongside Isla,seeing things directly through her eyes in this first person narrative.

There is something about a Fiona McIntosh novel that is captivating. It’s not something that you can point to, more a feeling that she creates through her combination of delicate prose, and delightful descriptions. And The Tea Gardens is no exception. Fiona again displays her prowess across all aspects of the novel, from prose to dialogue, narrative tension, and a captivating storyline.

Isla is a character that will play with your emotions, as she is somewhat a contradiction of characteristic at times. Strong, yet vulnerable. Smart, yet naive. Determined, yet stubborn. Which is in fact a brilliant way for a character to be. It not only makes her seem real, but also makes you invest in her story. From very early on, you want to know what will happen, and how it will change her. Will she be strong enough to endure her journey and return as promised? Or will her nativity and stubbornness cloud her decisions?

It’s hard to discuss the two male protagonists without hinting at the story, so I will just say that they couldn’t be more different. Both having their good points and downfalls making for an intriguing storyline.

The story touches on many of the issues of the 1930s, many of which still are current today. Issues such as class, status, privilege, gender, race, religion, and politics. And it will have you considering each and every one for Isla, and for the state of the world – where we’ve come from, and how far we still have to go.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Tea Gardens. And yes, it will make you want to reach for a cup of Darjeeling tea each time you sit down to read.