English An­i­mals

The Guardian - Review - - Fiction - by Laura Kaye (Aba­cus, £8.99) Clare Clark

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.

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