The Olive Tree, a review by Joanna

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The Olive Tree

Lucinda Riley

400 pages

Published July 2016


The Olive Tree is a contemporary family drama, first published in 2016, set in a picturesque Mediterranean villa on the island of Cyprus, by the author of the hugely successful Seven Sisters series. My friend warned me it was annoyingly full of pointless guilt and self-blame, but I fancied a summery beach type read, and initially loved the fun cast of characters and holiday vibes. However, as the plot developed, I found myself completely agreeing with her – the messaging, sexism and victim-blaming on show here is horrendous.

Alex is a pudgy thirteen year old introvert when he first visits Pandora, the idyllic hillside villa that his mother inherited from her godfather. He’s always wondered who his real father is, but his mother refuses to tell him. Former ballerina Helena is now happily married and looking forward to a holiday with her family and friends, but past secrets threaten to upturn all their lives.
This is told partly through Alex’s implausible first person present diary entries (I’m sorry but no one writes a journal like that, least of all a teenager) and the rest is traditional third person past. I started out with a lot of sympathy towards smart, sarcastic, picked upon Alex, caught on the brink between childhood attachments and adolescent preoccupations; my regard started waning with his creepy crush on his precocious older step-sister, and disappeared completely when he essentially disowns his mother for daring to have had a relationship before he existed. His seemingly kindly stepfather William is even worse. How dare she be with other men before him and not tell him about them?! When Helena’s big secret is, inevitably, revealed – and it won’t be a surprise to any reader what and who it involves – everyone blames the woman – even herself – despite it involving events that occurred in the nineties – not the nineteenth century. This slut-shaming of someone who wasn’t even being a slut by the standards of anyone who’s not a misogynistic hypocrite is appalling coming from a female writer. Needless to say this spoiled what would otherwise have been a pleasant if predictable and completely forgettable wodge of over-long women’s fiction. 2.5 rounded up for the first half, which did transport me ever so temporarily to the heat of the Greek islands.

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