Feb 21, 2012

The Week Night Book Club: The Colour of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe.


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It's funny how some novels register on your reading radar at pivotal times in your life.  I've had 'The Colour of Tea' on my Kindle for a few months now and for one reason or another, never got around to reading it until last weekend. It's the first novel by Hannah Tunnicliffe and the link is to a page from her own blog and web page.

I started reading it on my Kindle with no real idea as to what it was actually about.  That's the thing about e-books - there's no back cover or dust jacket to give you a clue about the plot or genre.

"The Colour of Tea' is a memoir that details period of transition, upheaval and disappointment in Grace's life.  Grace is around 40 and English.  Her husband Pete is from Australia and it is his work in casino development that brings the recently married couple to Macau.  The novel is narrated from the point of view of Grace.  Each chapter is named after a macaron of her creation (more about this later) and there are also letters between the chapters of prose that Grace writes to her late mother Liliian (who raised Grace on her own).

As I read the first few chapters, I felt myself relax into what I thought would be another 'foreigner in a strange country finding meaning and depth in their lives through a new culture' kind of reads.  Unique in the details about the country that forms the backdrop for a change in life but universal in how good and uplifted everyone feels by the last page.  I'm one of those arm chair travellers that likes finding a bit of spiritual mixed in with my word picture travels.

Grace confesses to being bored and unfulfilled with the life of a 'tai tai' and finds the language barrier (and weather) frustrating.  It all goes to formula until the 'pregnancy' word surfaces.  I pause for a moment and wonder if this is the right book for me to reading right now.  Considering the hours I spend bracing myself for any random pregnancy related talk that comes my way in real life, should I be extending the same efforts in self protection to my reading list?  Then it is revealed that Grace can't fall pregnant even with IVF because she is going through  premature ovarian failure. Is this a hidden message just for my appointment tomorrow?  Sometimes, I have to choose to stop  making everything about me and simply surrender to the simple joy of reading a really good book.

In the weeks after her diagnosis, Grace loses all purpose and envelops herself in a fog of numbing grief. She refuses to discuss alternative options or her feelings or Pete's.  Already isolated in a foreign city, she disconnects with her husband and retreats further into the happy memories of a childhood with Mama.  Trips to Paris where macarons from Laduree were devoured but the hotel room fees were often left unpaid.  Magical baking adventures where Mama would bake special cakes for birthdays and just because.  There were also the darker moments, Mama's days of tears and the lows that they signified.  Grace carries the guilt of not being able to help her mother or completely understand all the facets of her personality into adulthood.

One day, though, Grace and Pete will themselves to be a normal couple for one of Pete's work functions.  There, she is introduced to an exotic French couple.  Leon is the chef of one of Macau's more glamorous restaurants and he strikes up a 'foodie' conversation with Grace.  Over the next few weeks, Leon teaches Grace how to make macarons.  Fine food and baking become Grace's therapy and also a means by which she can find her own purpose in an often superficial circle of friends.

Emboldened by her success at making macarons, Grace decides that she will open her own cafe in Macau.  The back breaking work of renovating a disused bakery and setting up her business invigorates Grace but it also distances her further from Pete who also has a demanding job.  The cafe is named after Grace's mother, Lillian and is a success.

Along the way, Grace befriends 3 women from different walks of life.  Marjory is a beautiful and earthy 'tai tai' who gives Grace the hard facts when she needs them.  Gigi is a local girl who eventually becomes an employee at Lillian's and has her own cross to bear in the shape of a pregnancy out of wedlock to a commitment phobic croupier at the casino.  Rilla is a migrant worker from the Phillipines who becomes the back bone of the cafe and has fled a horrifying ordeal as a maid in another country.

I was completely engrossed in the world of Lillian's and its staff.  Grace and Pete eventually do leave Macau but they leave it more blessed and united than when they arrived.  You'll have to read 'The Colour of Tea' for yourself to find out how.  It's a book written with great warmth and empathy.  It's just as irresistible as a plate of macarons.

4 comments:

  1. Hope all goes well at your appointment.  Love the review and will try and source the book!  Denise  

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  2. Sounds like a good book, I shall add it to my ereader :-) Agee with the 'no book jacket' issure. Picking books based on title alone is annoying. My uncle gave me 4GB worth...

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  3. Sounds like an interesting read. X
    ps. I nominated you for a Versatile Blog award - if you want to accept, check details on my blog :)

    ReplyDelete

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