To enjoy this book, you’ve first of all got to accept the central premise that Joel has foresight: he can predict what’s going to happen to his friends and family in the future. If you’re going to spend the whole time yelling at the pages ‘but this is ridiculous, no-one can predict the future‘, I suggest this may not be the novel for you.
Once you’ve got that sorted, there is a lot to enjoy. Which is not what I was expecting to say, as romance is not usually my thing. In books I mean, not in life!
The love story between Joel and Callie is a slow burner, but I found it more credible as a result. The couple meet when Callie is working in a cafe and Joel is a customer, noticeable because he falls asleep at the table. Unbeknown to Callie, his night-time dreams of the future are so all-consuming, he tries to avoid them by surviving on as little shut-eye as possible. The main reason for the romance developing slowly though, is that Joel knows something bad is going to happen and, as a result, he doesn’t want to commit to the relationship. To add to the tension, the reader has no idea what Fate has in store. Joel’s advance warning causes him to take a drastic, heartbreaking decision.
As a story, I was swept along by this writing and really cared about the characters. The plot is simple with an ambiguous ending, which wasn’t a problem for me. What lingers after the last page though, is the searching question about whether you’d embark on a love affair, knowing when and how it would end. Not a vague notion of maybe it won’t work out, but the specific time, date and reason.
Of course I don’t know what other readers’ answers will be: but I can’t help thinking that we all know a romance is going to end. Whether that be in a few weeks, years or even decades, it will come to an end. Whether you part amicably or acrimoniously, for any number of reasons, or till death do you part, nothing is forever, not even the love of your life. Yet most of us take that risk time and time again. Maybe the truth is in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s words that ultimately, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. I, for one, have always been willing to take that chance on love.
I still send postcards when I go on holiday. They’ve rather gone out of fashion with the advent of social media, but I’ve always liked them. As a child, I collected the ones sent from afar by a pilot friend of the family, and even now I cherish a collection of vintage ones depicting UK lighthouses. So Victoria Hislop’s most recent bestseller ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ appealed to my love of the picture postcard.
The storyline is attractive. Postcards from Greece keep arriving at Ellie’s flat. She knows they aren’t for her, but the images and messages intrigue her. She plans a holiday to Greece to discover its magic for herself, and just as she is leaving for her trip, a notebook arrives in the post, addressed to the same recipient as the postcards and bearing the same simple signature. Just ‘A’. The notebook gradually reveals how A. rebuilds his life after a failed love affair. He travels through Greece and each section of the book is a ‘postcard’, a short story with accompanying photographs. As Ellie nears the end of the notebook, she cannot resist the temptation to track down its owner, and return the journal to him.
On the plus side, I like books with pictures. If I pick up a biography I usually flick to the middle to peruse those few glossy pages which accentuate the life story. On the negative side, this is a strange book, despite the promising premise. The short stories are unconnected to one another, and apart from one very creepy one about a young couple whose car breaks down in a deserted village, unrewarding. A’s cathartic journey is simply a washing line on which to hang all these wet rags, and it doesn’t work well. The ending of the book is twee and contrived, trying too hard to please.
I’ve read everything Victoria Hislop has written, but this was a disappointment. If you’ve never read her before, don’t start with this. If you are a fan, I wonder what you’ll make of ‘Cartes Postales’. Answers on a postcard, please…..
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!
I love lighthouses. Over the years I’ve read about them, visited and photographed them, stayed in keepers’ cottages and dreamed of owning a light and turning it into a cafe/museum. So, if there is a lighthouse-themed novel, I’m there.
Santa Montefiore’s (she is Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s sister by the way, never knew that!) ‘Secrets of the Lighthouse‘ attracted me because of the pharology connection. Unfortunately though, it was not enough to sustain my interest in the book.
The lighthouse at Connemara is the scene of the death of the beautiful Caitlin Macausland and is now a burned-out ruin. Ellen Trawton is a Londoner, daughter of a Lady and engaged to a man she doesn’t love. Feeling the need to escape, Ellen heads for Ireland and discovers a whole new family of which she was unaware. She falls in love with Caitlin’s widower and as she starts to feel at home on the Emerald Isle, the reasons for her natural affinity with Ireland are gradually revealed.
Caitlin’s spirit voice is one of the narrator’s of the book as she describes her attempts to contact her children and influence her husband’s love life from her place beyond the grave. That set my teeth on edge to start with – I didn’t warm to the dead narrator in ‘The Lovely Bones‘ and I didn’t here either. Aside from that, the plot is mediocre and the character development quite poor; everyone seemed wooden and stereotypically Irish – broad, dark-haired, Guinness-drinking musical pub-dwellers. I finished the book to find out what happens, but this is not an author I would read again in a rush. For beach-book mental floss, my preference is for Lucinda Riley.
It did set me off on another train of thought though. I wonder how much lighthouse fiction there is, as I can think of quite a few novels….