English Animals by Laura Kaye

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English Animals by Laura Kaye

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A dazzling debut of English country life seen through the eyes of an outsider, English Animals is a timely take on the English people and our shifting attitudes.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1408708231

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When Mirka gets a job in a country house in rural England, she has no idea of the struggle she faces to make sense of a very English couple, and a way of life that is entirely alien to her. Richard and Sophie are chaotic, drunken, frequently outrageous but also warm, generous and kind to Mirka, despite their argumentative and turbulent marriage. Mirka is swiftly commandeered by Richard for his latest money-making enterprise, taxidermy, and soon surpasses him in skill. After a traumatic break two years ago with her family in Slovakia, Mirka finds to her surprise that she is happy at Fairmont Hall. But when she tells Sophie that she is gay, everything she values is put in danger and she must learn the hard way what she really believes in.

A story about a romance in an English Country house. Same old, same old. Right? Wrong. This is the debut novel of author Laura Kaye, and a blisteringly good read from an author who is most certainly one to watch going forwards. The story is told from the point of view of Mirka – a Slovakian girl who has moves to England following a fallout with her family, and moves to work in the country house after a rather depressing time spent working for Pret a Manager. Mirka offers the reader a young, compelling and fascinating narrator, whose naiveté is tempered out by a dry sense of humour. As an outsider, she offers the English reader an intriguing insight into country life, observing characters with a crystal clarity that will bring them to immediate life for the reader, and, if you're anything like me, remind you instantly of people you know. The village busybody, the quiet man who is more than happy to spew forth his racist views after a few pints in the pub etc. – all too familiar as people from my childhood. There is a remarkable truth to these characters – for the most part they are portrayals that feel intensively well observed, and they never veer into caricature. Even Sophie's fairly terrible father comes across, sadly, as someone you could easily encounter, stuck deep in an image of England that never existed. Through these characters Kaye explores extremely timely issues – both in the acceptance of immigrants and also LGBT people, but always in a very natural way – none of these points feel at all forced.

Kaye's talents do not just stop at her incredible observations though – she's also crafted a tender coming of age story (who would have though you could create something tender, moving, and full of taxidermy mice?) that perfectly encapsulates the often bitter and difficult feelings that come with a first love. There's a very keen perceptiveness to the writing, both in terms of emotions and in terms of the way Kaye has captured the voice of someone for whom English isn't a first language. Confusion at idioms and cryptic crossword clues feel extremely genuine – (English is my first language and I'm stumped by cryptic crosswords too…), and Mirka's growth is rather lovely to read, seeing her gain independence and happiness in the English countryside. Add in Kaye's little touches (the dogs, and Mirka's changing attitude to how to deal with them are my particular highlights), and this is an astoundingly good first novel. It's the best debut I've read in ages – powerful, complex, compelling and refreshing. Definitely worth a read, so many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I recommend Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. As a debut novel, English Animals shows that Laura Kaye really shares a grip for brilliantly drawn characters and natural conversation with authors like Kate Atkinson, for whom Behind the Scenes at the Museum was an equally brilliant debut.

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Buy English Animals by Laura Kaye at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy English Animals by Laura Kaye at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy English Animals by Laura Kaye at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy English Animals by Laura Kaye at Amazon.com.


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