THE TEA CHEST
Author: Josephine Moon
Allen & Unwin RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
I love books that whisk me away into another place, drawing me into the pages so that I feel as much a part of it as the characters I’m reading about. The Tea Chest drew me into a perfumed world of teas, herbs and flowers, a place of warmth, dreams and creativity, a shop that I wish existed in more than its readers’ hearts. I read it in a matter of hours, a cup of tea at hand; just like a good “cuppa”, The Tea Chest hit the spot.
The Tea Chest unfolds through the viewpoints of Kate, Leila and Elizabeth, three woman drawn together in a combined quest to take a beloved boutique teashop to the next level. Following the death of her mentor, Simone, Kate inherits 50 per cent of the business, which has stores in Brisbane and Sydney, and the shell of a shop in London. Despite her brusque business partner, Judy, making it clear she wants out, Kate forges ahead with Simone’s dreams of expansion and travels to London, leaving behind her young family. There, with her new employees Leila, Elizabeth and Victoria, she turns her vision of an English-garden themed teashop into reality, albeit hitting a few bumps on the way. From riots in London’s streets, to dealing with relationships complicated by distance (and other factors) to investment difficulties and a threat from Judy to challenge Simone’s will if Kate doesn’t play ball, the path to success is bumpy. If that weren’t enough, each women carry baggage and each must overcome their fears in order to live their dreams: Kate lacks confidence, Leila needs to prove herself and Elizabeth is reeling from her marriage breakdown.
In addition to the main characters’ viewpoints, the story jumped back in time on occasions, giving an insight into the beginnings of The Tea Chest, as well as the troubled relationship between Simone and Judy (who are step-sisters). It’s a little distracting because it interrupts the flow and slows the story a little, but it does help readers understand Judy’s attitude (she has a history of taking responsibility and fixing things for Simone). In one sense, the storyline and character development is predictable – everything wraps up as expected and there weren’t any great surprises; what was refreshing about it was the atmosphere Moon created – a vibrant and creative environment in which women were nurtured, encouraged and given space to explore who they were. This was bolstered by some funny moments – think, men’s crochet group, a unicorn obsession and text messages from a lonely husband in charge of two lively boys.
A story of friendships, relationships, trust and following dreams that hints at deeper themes of alcoholism, civil unrest and immigration, The Tea Chest is a deliciously light read that will suit lovers of Cathy Kelly and Monica McInerney lovers to a T. Now, if only could convince Kate to bring that shop to Perth …
Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.
Bookish treat: A cup of chai tea and an Anzac biscuit hit the spot while I was reading.