Choosing what to read next is like choosing from a menu. I run my fingers down the literary à la carte and make my choice according to what takes my fancy; something long, not too difficult, a bit romantic and slightly fairy-story. After the seriousness of my last read, I opted for Lucinda Riley; Enid Blyton for grown-ups. And I don’t consider that to be an insult. Like many of my generation, I cut my bookish teeth on Mallory Towers and St Clare’s. Stories to get lost in. I’ve only recently forgiven my mother for not letting me go to boarding school.
Dumped by her American lover when he discovers she is a Windmill girl, Greta Simpson is forced to leave London when she realises she is pregnant. Luckily, her friend ‘Taffy’ (David) offers her sanctuary at a small cottage on his family’s Welsh estate, and so Greta is drawn in to Marchmont. After a disastrous marriage and haunted by grief, Greta takes her daughter back to London to try and re-build their lives.
‘The Angel Tree‘ follows the life of Greta, revealed through flashbacks from Christmas 1985 when she has re-joined her family at Marchmont Hall. As well as her grand-daughter, Ava, Greta is also accompanied by her David, now a lifelong friend. David is hoping that re-visiting Marchmont will help Greta to recover her memory, which was lost when she was involved in an accident. Throughout Greta’s unsettled life, David is the one constant. But will they ever declare their love for one another?
All in all, this is a pretty awful book. The characters are wooden, they are stereo-typed and make terrible choices. There is a very dubious portayal of mental illness in Cheska’s character and Greta seems to lie without compunction. The plot is predictable and uninspiring and the whole thing could have done with being edited down to about two-thirds of its final length. I also spotted more than a few jarring grammatical errors (yes, I am a punctuation pedant).
But did I care? Not a jot. There is room in my reading life for Lucinda Riley as well as Lionel Shriver, I just allowed myself to drift along. The words slip through my mind like sand in an egg-timer, almost imperceptibly and requiring very little effort. Continuing my earlier culinary references ‘The Angel Tree‘ is a bit like the literary equivalent of a Chinese takeaway – it’s quite satisfying at the time, but an hour later you’ll have forgotten all about it and will be hungry again!