A little while ago, I had a book thrust upon me by my mother. She does this a lot. She’ll read something and love it and tell me about it again and again until I relent and borrow it from her and add to my ever increasing pile of to be reads. She does this with movies also – usually ones with subtitles or romantic ones set in a beautiful Mediterranean location (they all look the same, just with different characters). I have nothing against these films, but I really need to be in the mood to watch them. Anyway, usually it’s a while before I get to these books she makes me take, one of them I think I’ve had for about six months. But the last one she forced upon me found itself being read a lot sooner than normal, and it’s pages being turned with relish.
The Girl Under The Olive Tree by Leah Fleming, was that lucky book. Set on the island of Crete in World War II, it tells the story of Penelope George, and English Red Cross Nurse with Greek heritage, who after going against the wishes of her wealthy and respectable parents, finds herself trapped on the island during the German occupation. As time goes by, she is drawn into the circle of the Cretan resistance and becomes a key member of the rebel group who are doing all they can to ruin the plans of the German occupiers. Add in a Jewish best friend, a love interest who is just too heroic for words and a German officer with too much interest in our heroine, and you have a pretty damn good story.
In some ways it reminded me a little of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. It really isn’t the same when I think about it and I can’t actually give you any examples of why I think they are the same. Perhaps it was the Mediterranean location, the occupation storyline, the enemy officer who is interested in the main female character…ok, so I can give you a few reasons. I even had the thought that if they adapted The Girl Under The Olive Tree into a film, that it would actually look exactly like the film version of Captain Corelli (you know, those romantic sorts of films set in beautiful Mediterranean locations that are all the same, just with different characters).
But the one great difference between these two great books, and the difference which puts Captain Corelli ahead in my opinion, is the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll just say that Louis de Bernières wrote a far more satisfactory ending to his novel. I was so disappointed in the ending, that I almost wish I had never read the book at all, but by then I had finished and it was too late. In any case, it was a very good book and there was lots of well placed tension and moments of apprehension. It’s a very well written book and a good history lesson in terms of the fact that so many World War II novels are set in Germany, France or Russia – the Greeks often get forgotten. I would certainly recommend just about anyone to read it, particularly those people who prefer not to get their hopes up for the ending they want.