Book review: The Olive Tree by Lucinda Riley

The Olive Tree byLucinda Riley

The Olive Tree byLucinda Riley

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Pandora, a crumbling mansion perched on a cliff amidst the dusty olive groves of Cyprus, opens up the legendary box of dark secrets when its new owner arrives for a long, hot summer.

Local tradition says that anyone who comes to stay at Pandora for the first time will fall in love, but when the past and present collide, hearts could well be broken…

Sea, sun, family dynamics, moral mazes and sizzling revelations abound as bestselling author Lucinda Riley eschews her trademark vast historical time-slip sagas for a dazzling contemporary novel drawn from her own life experiences as a mother, stepmother and wife.

The Olive Tree took shape on a family visit to Cyprus ten years ago and was completed only recently when Riley found the manuscript in a desk drawer. And it was well worth the wait as we are swept away for a memorable ‘holiday’ with the intriguing Beaumont/Cooke family as mum Helena negotiates a rocky road into the hidden corners of her past.

Brimming with the colour, atmosphere and sultry heat of beautiful Cyprus, this is a gripping story about family relationships across all generations, the ties that bind us with sometimes invisible cords and the complex nature of ‘family’ in the modern world.

It has been twenty-four years since 39-year-old former dancer Helena Cooke spent a magical holiday at Pandora, her godfather’s beautiful home near Kathikas in Cyprus where she fell in love for the first time. And now she is back for the summer, with family and friends in tow, after inheriting the empty, crumbling house.

Despite her hopes that the holiday will be perfect, Helena has a strange feeling of impending doom as if opening up Pandora again will also yield the mythological box of ills and evils. What the others don’t know is that the idyllic beauty of the house masks a web of secrets and there is a risk that here in Cyprus the truth is dangerously close to the surface.

Helena has never revealed to her reliable, loving husband William – father of her two youngest children – and Alex, her precociously clever 13-year-old son from a previous relationship, just who is Alex’s father because she knows the truth would destroy everything for the family.

Alex, who pours out his heart in a diary, is torn between protecting his beloved mother and growing up, but now he has hit his teenage years, he is desperate to find about his real father.

When Helena meets handsome widower Alexis Lisle, the local man who was her childhood sweetheart all those years ago, a chain of events is set in motion that blows apart the secrets that have haunted her life for years…

Riley writes with both insight and empathy as Helena’s mysterious past slowly but surely unravels in the full glare of the sun, her ill-assorted family and friends, and through the eyes of her prodigiously clever, wryly perceptive teenage son.

But this is not just Helena’s drama…The Olive Tree is a wise, warm-hearted story of how we function in times of stress, how secrets and lies can undermine relationships, how guilt and betrayal can corrode even the closest of families and how love, loyalty and honesty are the glue that keeps us together.

A stunning tale of our times from a master storyteller…

(Macmillan, hardback, £16.99)