I wasn’t sure, when I first heard about The Olive Tree, whether I really wanted to read it or not. I’ve enjoyed most of Lucinda Riley’s previous novels but part of the appeal is the way she intertwines past and present, linking the lives of modern day characters with ones who lived in times gone by. The Olive Tree is not like that; it has a contemporary setting, with the action taking place mostly in 2006 with a few chapters bringing us right up to date in 2016. I thought I would miss the historical element, but actually, once I started reading, I found I didn’t mind that it was a different sort of book and I ended up enjoying it anyway (although not quite as much as the historical ones).
The Olive Tree is the story of a family holiday in Cyprus. The setting couldn’t be more idyllic – a house called Pandora, with its own pool, a sunny terrace and a beautiful view – but the holiday itself is the holiday from hell. As its Greek name suggests, Pandora holds a lot of secrets and some of them are about to be revealed.
Pandora belongs to Helena Cooke, the novel’s main female character, who is returning to the house for the first time in years, having recently inherited it from her godfather. Almost as soon as she arrives, however, she wonders whether coming back was a mistake: Alexis, with whom she had a teenage romance in Cyprus more than twenty years earlier, is still living nearby and still seems to have feelings for Helena. Her husband, William, is not going to be pleased!
Someone else whose life has been thrown into turmoil by the presence of Alexis is Helena’s eldest son, thirteen-year-old Alex. Alex has never known the identity of his biological father…could it be Alexis? As Alex retreats to the privacy of his tiny bedroom to write in his diary and pour out his hopes and fears, another troubled family arrives to stay at Pandora. They are the Chandlers: William’s alcoholic best friend, Sacha; his long-suffering wife, Jules, and their two children, one of whom is Alex’s worst enemy. With the additions of Chloe, William’s teenage daughter from a previous marriage, and Helena’s friend Sadie, who is getting over a break-up with her latest boyfriend, it’s going to be a difficult summer!
At nearly 600 pages, this was a surprisingly quick read, which is something I’ve found with most of Lucinda Riley’s novels; she knows how to tell a good story and how to hold the reader’s attention from one chapter to the next. I don’t think the book needed to be quite so long (the Sadie storyline, for example, added very little to the overall plot) but otherwise I did enjoy spending time getting to know the Cooke and Chandler families. There were some twists in the story towards the end and although I’d had my suspicions, I was still surprised by some of the revelations.
Interspersed throughout the novel are passages from Alex’s diary and I particularly liked reading these sections. I found Alex an intriguing character; having been assessed as a gifted child with an exceptionally high IQ, sometimes he seems much older than thirteen, but in other ways – such as his attachment to his toy rabbit, Bee – he feels very young and insecure. I think if the whole novel had been narrated by Alex it might have been too much, but I always looked forward to returning to his diary entries – they were written with such a unique combination of humour, wisdom and vulnerability.
This isn’t my favourite Lucinda Riley novel but with its sunny, summery setting it was a perfect August read. I’m now looking forward to reading The Shadow Sister, the next book in her Seven Sisters series, which is coming out later this year.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of The Olive Tree for review.