Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Review - The Angel Tree

For summer holidays when I was a kid I used to pack more books than clothes – at least one for every day of the trip.

Earlier this year, as a gardening obsessed adult I packed only six books to last six weeks.

The first one I opened was a 'gardening travelogue', which seemed appropriate. Alex Dingwall-Main's 'The Angel Tree' follows the author on his travels across the Mediterranean as he tries to find the oldest living olive tree and bring it back to France for a very rich client.

Alex Dingwall-Main is an English garden designer, living in France. At the beginning of the book he has a serendipitous meeting with a local chateau owner. In what is written as a rather haphazard attempt to design something impressive enough to win the client over, Alex suggest an ancient olive tree for the courtyard. The idea of owning something so noble proves irresistible, and Alex is hired to track down the oldest olive tree that will survive in the local climate (Provence not being the ideal location for olives because of the cold winters), uproot it and bring it back.

You're then taken on what is meant to be an entertaining romp as the author travels across France, Spain, Italy and Greece in search of a 'millÈnaire' – an olive tree over a thousand years old. There are certainly plenty of characters to meet along the way, although the only likeable ones are the trees themselves.

I won't spoil the ending for anyone who wants to read the book – the quest is finally successful, but not in the way that you would expect. In fact, in the final chapters the author and his client redeem themselves slightly; most of the time they come across as entitled buffoons who don't give a monkey's for anything other than making an impression.
With its open-ended budget and a lavish carbon footprint, I found this story to be unrealistic and very annoying. If you added in some high-end CGI and a car chase in the closing scenes then it would make a passable Hollywood blockbuster. The author rarely remembers that this is a gardening travelogue, but occasionally throws in the Latin names of some of the plants he walks past on his travels. There is a separate section at the back with details about olive cultivation and the production of olive oil, but there's very little useful information here for people attempting to grow olives in the British climate (although it's heartening to read that olive trees seem to be virtually unkillable).

All-in-all I would classify this as a book to be read while the sangria is making your head fuzzy and you've got sand between your toes. Leave it in the hotel when you leave. Better by far was my second choice – Elspeth Thompson's Urban Gardener.

Emma Cooper

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