There came a point when I was reading Hannah Tunnicliffe’s The Color of Tea when I said to myself, “If this particular plot point comes to pass, I will literally throw this book across a room.” Unfortunately, when that particular plot point that I dreaded did in fact come to pass, I was reading on the subway and if I had thrown my book across the room, I probably would have hit some poor commuter in the head.
The Color of Tea is about Grace Miller and her life in Macau, the former Portuguese colony in the south of China that functions similarly to Hong Kong. She is miserable after years of trying to conceive unsuccessfully with her husband, Pete. While in Macau, Grace tries to come to terms with the fact that she will never have children, by opening a cafe to sell French macarons. There she makes friends, including her two employees, Rilla, a Filipino immigrant, and Gigi, a young, pregnant woman.
I spent a lot of time wondering if my problems with The Color of Tea were my personal hang-ups with this particular type of book, or problems with the story. But I went into the reading of The Color of Tea with an open mind. This is not my typical fare, but at the same time, I enjoy a light book with a happy ending with some melodrama thrown in. There is nothing wrong with that kind of story, but I found The Color of Tea to be a frustrating reading experience. From here on out, there will be many a spoiler.
There’s simply too much going on in The Color of Tea. No single story line can be properly fleshed out because the book would be 800 pages long. It’s almost like Tunnicliffe didn’t know what kind of book she wanted to write, so she tried to write all of them. She addresses social issues. Infertility. Mother-daughter issues. Bipolar disorder. Infidelity. The treatment of immigrants in Macau. Expat snobbery. And so many dream sequences. It’s all convenience and melodrama, packaged in an interesting setting plus cookies. To be fair, Tunnicliffe’s descriptions of macarons and food had me salivating the whole time I was reading, but it’s difficult to enjoy a novel that has so many plot points that make a reader cringe.
Let’s start with Grace’s cafe, called Lillian’s. There was nothing realistic about Grace starting this cafe. First of all, after never exploring Macau except to get groceries, Grace stumbles upon this building for rent. Grace has no professional baking experience, but she decides that after one macaron lesson with sexy-chef Leon that she is prepared to open her own cafe. She rents the building, with no knowledge of local laws or codes, and manages to start a successful business in what appears to be one week or less. She mentions a few days when the cafe is empty, but other than that, she is turning a profit in the first month. I hate to be a downer here, but that’s unrealistic and unbelievable on so many levels.
Fiction doesn’t always have to be believable, but this just isn’t even possible. Having her open a restaurant after carefully considering it for a couple of months and taking a few baking classes and succeeding after the first six months would have been unlikely, sure, but at least it would have been logical. Grace never once considers that she might be making a mistake. She never once makes a bad batch of macarons. It is just smooth sailing.
Then there is Gigi. She is young, but not too young, and pregnant, with no father in the picture. As soon as she came into the picture, I had a suspicion that somehow she was going to give her baby up for adoption and Grace was going to adopt the baby. But, I thought, surely that can’t happen. No, please, no. Like the cafe, it’s so coincidental, so unlikely, and borderline offensive.
It is also an infinitely more complex situation than the story presents. It literally happens in one page. I have so many questions about this. Is it legal? How did it work? Was it difficult? Does Faith get to see her mother, Gigi? Does Grace ever feel guilty for taking Faith away from Gigi? Does Faith visit Macau? Does Gigi regret giving Faith up for adoption? But, most of all, did Grace actually think about it at all? Or did she just say yes? The adoption process in real life is a difficult, stressful, and expensive affair. It’s not something you take lightly or casually. It’s certainly not something that just happens.
I had so many problems with this story, but those are the two that I simply could not get over. Do coincidences and chance encounters result in life-changing experiences? Yes. Should authors represent that in fiction? Absolutely. In a lot of ways, The Color of Tea is very escapist. Grace’s world is not the real world. But it was too difficult to suspend that disbelief and get lost in the story.
I received a copy of The Color of Tea to review from TLC Book Tours. You can read more about this tour, including links to the other tour stops, here.