Aussie Book Review: The Perfect Wife by Katherine Scholes

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of The Reading Room
Publication Date:    25 September 2013
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781921901706
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

“Kitty Hamilton arrives in Tanganyika with high hopes for her new life. An exciting adventure halfway across the world could be just what she and Theo need to recover from the scandal that almost tore them apart.  

She is determined to play the role of the perfect wife, but her dreams soon begin to unravel. Theo is distracted with his important British government post, and while Kitty had imagined doing valuable work of her own, she finds that choosing the right frock to wear to the club is the biggest challenge of her day.

In this wild and foreign land, where very different powers prevail, the head can't always rule the heart. As old wounds resurface and new passions ignite, Kitty and Theo confront emotions that push them beyond the boundaries of all that they know and believe in.

The Perfect Wife is a breathtaking story about the struggle between duty and desire, jealousy and love, commitment and freedom.  And the need to follow the call of your heart, wherever it may lead you ..."

Summary and Thoughts

"The Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme was a project of the British Government who planned to cultivate tracts of land in the British protectorate of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) with peanuts.  It was abandoned in 1951 at considerable cost to the taxpayers when it did not become profitable."

It is against this backdrop and, drawing on her parents’ own real memories of the failed Groundnut Scheme as well as her own recollections of life in Tanzania, that Katherine Scholes has written this fabulous novel of the inner struggle of a girl born in Australia.

Following an inheritance from her grandmother which allows her the opportunity to travel and study in England, Kitty eschews her homeland for England where she meets her husband Theo, a man from a class way above her upbringing in Wattle Creek.  When a scandal erupts, she is forced to flee.

The book opens with Kitty finally on her way to reunite with Theo in Tanganyika where he took up a position with the Groundnut Scheme two years before.  She is hopeful that this new land will present more opportunities and allow her and Theo to overcome the cracks in their marriage after the scandal in which she was involved brought shame upon his family.

Living on Millionaire Row and being the wife of the Groundnut Scheme manager comes with perks of course, such as socialising at the Club with all the other wives and basically being a lady of leisure, which Theo is adamant she do - but Kitty wants more.  Unable to pursue a constructive outlet, she’s bored, and the wives aren’t particularly friendly.

Kitty goes out of her way to be “the perfect wife”, attempting to do whatever it takes to restore Theo’s faith in her and eventually win back his love, but this proves difficult with a husband still suffering the effects of the War.  He spends an inordinate amount of time at work and when he is at home, he constantly tries to control and mould her into someone she is not.

Afforded the opportunity to do some work at the Christian Mission under the pretext of helping one of the wives she has finally befriended, she beings to feel empowered – until Theo “puts in her place” again.  After tragedy strikes when a beekeeping project run by the Scheme goes wrong, will Kitty find it in herself to be true to who she really is? 

I love novels based in Africa and this one is no exception as it called to mind some of my own memories of the African bush.

Much like Australia, the landscape can be pretty uncompromising and brutal at times for those trying to make a living off it.  In this novel, Katherine Scholes brings this issue into vivid reality as she relates the story of the failed Groundnut Scheme, giving an account of a post-war Colonial frontier in all its glory and juxtaposing the beauty with the harshness of the landscape.  They say that Africa beats to the rhythm of its own drum and this certainly comes through in Katherine’s descriptions of the people of Londoni, the indigenous tribes and the missionaries, giving it an almost mystical quality as subtle religious elements shine through the narrative, without being over-powering.

The beautiful cover matches the tone of the book, perfectly encapsulating Kitty’s longing and soul-searching and it is through her internal dialogue that Katherine allows us to see the turmoil within - her desire to be an artist is strong, yet her loyalty and duty to her somewhat controlling husband takes precedence, dampening the desires of her heart.

It is the past that is a mystery in this fabulous novel and one that will keep you turning the pages until you discover Kitty's full back-story along with the exact reasons why she needed to flee the claustrophobic confines of Theo’s aristocratic family, and it is amongst these pages that Katherine presents a strong portrait of an anguished young woman attempting to discover who she really is and find the stability she longs for.

This is a passionate and moving story of one woman's resilience and her pursuit for happiness and I wish to thank Anna at The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy for review.

A Little About the Author

Katherine Scholes was born in Tanzania, East Africa, the daughter of a missionary doctor and an artist.  She has fond memories of travelling with her parents and siblings on long safaris to remote areas where her father operated a clinic from his Land Rover.  When she was ten, the family left Tanzania going first to England and then settling in Tasmania.

As an adult Katherine moved to Melbourne with her film-maker husband.  After working there for many years, writing books and making films, they returned with their two sons to live in Tasmania.

Katherine is the author of the international bestsellers The Rain Queen, Make Me An Idol, The Stone Angel, The Hunter’s Wife and The Lioness.


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