Best of 2012: The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

The Fever Tree is the debut novel from author Jennifer McVeigh, and I simply had to include it in my Best of 2012 series. I came across the book at the Penguin Bloggers Night back in March, when Jennifer read from the novel; I was also lucky enough to speak to her at the event and hear more about the book before reading it. Straight away I knew I would like the novel and enjoy reading it.

March 2012 paperback cover. Image: penguin.co.uk
Viking March 2012 paperback cover. Image: penguin.co.uk
Penguin January 2013 paperback cover. Image: penguin.co.uk
Penguin January 2013 paperback cover. Image: penguin.co.uk

19th century London. Frances Irvine is left penniless after her father’s death, and has only two options for the future – to become a nanny to her squabbling young cousins in their tiny house up North, or travel to South Africa to marry her cousin Edwin, a doctor. She chooses Edwin and South Africa. Through her lengthy voyage and rather eventful arrival in South Africa, Frances experiences prejudice, sexism, disease, poverty, and great unhappiness. Victorian socioeconomic issues are explored throughout The Fever Tree, as well as different forms of love and desire.

Edwin and Frances live in a cottage on a farm in the middle of the veldt – essentially a dry wasteland that is almost a desert. The tree of the title stands next to the cottage, and it becomes a symbol of life overcoming hardship throughout the story. The landscape is also the subject of intense and evocative description by McVeigh that is beautiful and heartbreaking. The ship on Frances’ voyage, Cape Town, the veldt, and the smallpox-ridden town of Kimberley are all described with such vivid intensity that they almost become characters in themselves.

Jennifer McVeigh. Image: jennifermcveigh.co.uk
Jennifer McVeigh. Image: jennifermcveigh.co.uk

Frances is also a vivid creation. We follow her through such upheaval and emotional changes that you cannot help but sympathise and warm to her as a character, even when she is at times naive. Nine months after reading this novel I still remember exactly how I felt as I followed Frances through her hardships and hopelessness, all the way to the story’s conclusion. I simply loved this book.

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The Fever Tree was published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin UK, in March 2012. You can read my original review here.

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