In Kaye’s debut novel, Mirka is a 19-yearold from Slovakia who has come to England to make a new life. She accepts a job helping Richard and Sophie Parker with their taxidermy business at a decaying country house in the middle of nowhere. Initially as unnerved by the dead bodies of the animals as she is by the Parkers’ drunkenness and dubious hygiene, Mirka is gradually drawn into their lives. Everything seems to be going swimmingly until Mirka falls in love with Sophie and discovers that her feelings might just be reciprocated. The novel is a strange hybrid, both determinedly contemporary and oddly old-fashioned. Sophie and Richard are chaotic, good-hearted Sloanes in the Jilly Cooper tradition: they are also very real. Kaye has an ear for dialogue, and Sophie, in particular, is vividly imagined. Where Kaye falls frustratingly short is in her characterisation of Mirka, who remains shadowy and indistinct. English Animals resembles too much the taxidermy “scenes” that Mirka creates, a painstakingly assembled facsimile of life rather than life itself.