To Be the Best

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Paula O’Neill, granddaughter of Emma Harte, the legendary “woman of substance,” is the proverbial superwoman who adroitly balances her various roles as head of the family chain of elite English department stores, mother, and wife of a hotel magnate. Not content to rest on these laurels, Paula is obsessed by the desire to expand the chain to the United States, thus building an achievement of her own. To accomplish her expansionary dreams, she jets around the world, thereby introducing the reader to some of the other wealthy and sometimes ruthless members of the Harte clan.

The family seems to be pursued by tragedy and misfortune, intrigue and treachery. Paula finds her power threatened as she struggles with her bitter enemy, her cousin Jonathan Ainsley, in a vicious battle over the control of the Harte stores. A prime example of the women’s fiction genre, TO BE THE BEST titillates the reader with detailed portraits of opulent interiors, passionate love scenes, and sumptuous fashions. Unfortunately, these wordy descriptions tend to slow down the action of the plot, which at times seems to meander without direction. Readers who have not read the first two volumes of the trilogy may find the profusion of actors in this drama excessive and confusing. Regrettably, one feels little empathy for most of these individuals, who possess too much greed and too little humanity.