Almost English

by Charlotte Mendelson

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

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I read, and enjoyed, Charlotte Mendelson’s When We Were Bad a few years ago now and I definitely put her on my list of authors to pick up again before too long. I didn’t get round to picking up any of her other books though until this one popped up on this year’s Booker Prize longlist. I doubt it will get any further in the Booker but I enjoyed reading it a lot.

This is mostly the story of sixteen year old Marina, daughter to a quiet English mother Laura, and granddaughter and great-niece to a trio of older Hungarian women. I’m not surprised to look at Mendelson’s bio and see that she was born in the same year as me as Marina’s sixth form experience seems to have been contemporaneous with mine. In fact I had trouble reading whole passages as they were making me squirm with remembered embarrassment; I suspect some of that is universal though, I’m not that like Marina (though by the end of the book I was wishing I had been a bit more like her in some ways). The other part of the story is taken up with Laura, Marina’s mother, and though this isn’t as strong a story as Marina’s I thought it provided a good balance for the book: there’s only so much teenage angst a reader can stand!

Overall the book is about families, history, how we all think other people have an easier time of sorting their lives out than we do. It’s obvious that a different version of Marina could have revelled in showing off her eccentric elderly relations rather than being embarrassed by them but she wants to ensconce herself in what she feels is a nice English family. The book gets a bit twisty towards the end and the plot was all tied up much better than I expected. I’d recommend the story as a good read even though I don’t think it’s Booker chances are very high.