“Almost English is about the ugly years and a startlingly plain adolescent.”
While Author Charlotte Mendelson’s description is definitely apt, the novel is actually held together by two protagonists—mother and daughter—facing their own crises in West London during the 1980s.
Sixteen-year-old Marina is being raised by her emotionally fragile mother Laura and three elderly Hungarian relatives in a cramped basement flat filled with strange traditions and even stranger foods.
Longing to escape this tiny Hungarian enclave, Marina goes off to Combe Abbey, a posh, traditional English boarding school, hoping to reinvent herself and “set off towards the glorious adulthood which awaits her.”
Desperately homesick, Marina feels more of a misfit than ever as she tries to conform to English ways and customs. Several comedic episodes follow when she is invited to a classmate’s country home.
Struggling to deal with her own painful secrets and dilemmas, Laura wonders if she is on the brink of a nervous breakdown or simply having “a disappointing life.” Abandoned by a handsome and spoiled husband, Laura moves in with her mother-in-law where she lives uncomfortably for over a decade. The insecure and often distracted forty-two-year-old fails to notice that Marina is desperately in need of an intervention.
The scenes involving the endearing trio of aged Hungarian women provide much of the domestic humor. Their conversations are sprinkled with “darlinks” and “von-darefuls” and their extravagant gestures create constant drama, much to Marina’s chagrin.
A delightful read, Almost English is worthy of its Man Booker Prize nomination.
Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for my review copy.