English Animals – Laura Kaye – 2017 – Contemporary
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.
I think this is a great character driven novel. Mirka, the main character, is very believable and I enjoyed reading from her perspective but what I really thought was interesting was how much I disliked her. Mirka does a lot of things in this book that are not good, and she has a nasty attitude but I thought that made her more fun to read. There is a lot of character development in Mirka throughout the novel, and while I ended the novel still disliking her, I felt like she learnt a lesson from her relationships with Sophie and Richard and became less arrogant.
I also liked the characters of Richard and Sophie. Again, none of the characters in this story are likeable but they feel so real I was compelled to read on despite the desire to grind my teeth!
I think the current time of Brexit is a particularly interesting time to read this novel. While the topic of racism is brought up, I do wish it had been explored further and been confronted. There is almost an idea in the book that if you’re an Eastern European living in the English countryside you will get racist remarks and no-one disagrees with the people that would say that. There were flaws from this angle in that it says to the victims you just have to accept it, but also that people living in the country are somehow more racist than those from cities, so I wish this theme had been a lot more fleshed out and challenged.
The first time I read about the taxidermy in the novel it was very graphic. As a carnivore and a country girl I am not easily squeamish, but this was definitely up there so be warned if you are more sensitive. I did like how as the book developed and Mirka grew more used to the taxidermy the language grew much tamer and it became a natural part of the story.
I gave this book 4/5. If you enjoy character led books then I’d definitely recommend it, but I’d avoid it if you need plot.