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No Angel

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although a best-selling author in the United Kingdom, No Angel is Penny Vincenzi’s first published novel in the United States. A sprawling family saga, it covers the fortunes and misfortunes of the Lytton family from the early 1900’s to the flapper era.

When eighteen-year-old headstrong, blue-blooded Celia Beckenham wants to marry the lower-ranking Oliver Lytton against her parents’ wishes, she purposely gets pregnant to force the issue, and gets her way, as is her pattern throughout the novel. As Celia jumps into family life, giving birth to three children, she also joins the Lytton family publishing firm, rising rapidly through its ranks.

With the advent of World War I, Oliver reluctantly enlists, and Celia and his sister L.M. successfully keep the family business afloat, although they are forced to publish the type of materials Oliver would never have accepted. Oliver returns from the war a broken man, disapproving of his wife’s handling of the firm, and Celia must cede the company back to her husband, as returning veterans all over England are replacing the women who occupied their jobs. Heartbroken, Celia seeks solace in the arms of one of the firm’s most successful authors, and contemplates leaving Oliver.

Like all good family dramas, No Angel is ripe with compelling sub-plots, and also with engaging characters, more complex and multi-faceted than those usually populating this genre. Rich in historical details, including life on the World War I home front, the sailing of the Titanic (Celia and Oliver just miss it due to a family emergency), and changing fashions, this novel is a superior example of an historical family drama. Although No Angel neatly ties up its numerous subplots, there is fortunately still ample material for the two sequels to come.