Skip to main content

No Angel


No Angel

Last year the Overlook Press, previously best known for publishing
literary fiction and reissuing the Freddy the Pig children's books,
took a gamble and published a big, popular book, THE COMPANY by
Robert Littell. Its success prompted the publisher to tackle an
equally ambitious project this year. This time, though, the novel
is so-called women's fiction, and the subject matter is not the
history of the CIA but the equally turbulent history of a single
British family. The good news is that NO ANGEL, with its superb
plotting and wide cast of characters, is just as compulsively
readable as any spy thriller.

The heroine of NO ANGEL is Lady Celia, a lovely debutante at the
start of the novel, who sets her sights on Oliver Lytton, heir to
an up-and-coming publishing firm. The year is 1904, and Celia's
very proper society family is appalled by her desire to marry into
"new money." Even more shocking, though, is Celia's desire to work
in publishing herself. Despite her husband's misgivings, Celia
joins the firm as a junior editor and surprises everyone by being
absolutely brilliant at her work, soon rising through the ranks to
work alongside Oliver and his sister, the imposing but secretly
vulnerable LM. In the meantime, Celia is also having babies, and
the challenges she faces in balancing the work she loves with her
growing family will ring true for many modern working

Celia and Oliver work hard to build a life for themselves in London
and soon find themselves at the center of a fabulous social circle
that includes prominent writers, artists and politicians. Then
World War I begins, and everything changes. Oliver spends four
years at the front lines and comes back a shadow of his former
self. Celia and LM, who have worked hard to keep the publishing
house going in his absence, must cope with relinquishing power to
the men when they return from the war. Soon, Celia, accustomed to
making hard decisions in her professional life, finds herself torn
by an incredibly difficult personal choice between passion and

Although Lady Celia Lytton is the "no angel" of the book's title,
and most of the novel's plots revolve around her intense
personality, one of the book's riches is its immense cast of
supporting players, most of whom are finely drawn, interesting
characters in their own right. From Jack, Oliver's dashing but
inept bachelor brother, to Barty, the young girl Celia plucks from
poverty in a misguided charitable impulse, to Celia's mother, who
harbors some pretty racy secrets of her own, the cast of characters
spans generations, class boundaries and continents, and the plot
touches all of them in turn. NO ANGEL is not great literature, but
it does provide a certain level of emotional insight into all of
these characters that is lacking in much popular fiction.

The plot itself rockets through all 600+ pages and the text,
especially near the book's end, is broken up into small chunks of a
paragraph or two, shifting the story rapidly from one character to
another. If there's one flaw with the book, it's the numerous
typographical errors and punctuation problems that riddle the text
to the point of being distracting. The story also relies a little
too heavily on coincidence and close calls, but that's OK ---
that's what will keep readers turning the pages, waiting for a

Not all of the subplots are resolved, however. The author had to
save something for the book's two sequels, which have already been
published in the United Kingdom, where Penny Vincenzi has long been
a bestselling author, and will be published in the United States by
Overlook Press as well. For readers who devour NO ANGEL, these next
installments in the Lytton family saga can't be published quickly

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2011

No Angel
by Penny Vincenzi

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 626 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook TP
  • ISBN-10: 1585676071
  • ISBN-13: 9781585676071