English Animals by Laura Kaye
English Animals is a witty and emotionally gripping novel about love and belonging in modern England. Mirka moved away from her unsupportive family in Slovakia to England and is about to start a job at a country house with what she thinks will be a quintessential countryside couple, Richard and Sophie. She finds herself suddenly drawn into Richard’s taxidermy business and falling for Sophie as she settles into life at Fairmont Hall and soon the situation is far more complicated than her vision of the English countryside.
Mirka’s narration gives the novel an endearing centre, with her wry observations and longing emotion showing how complicated her relationship to the country is. England is a place of hope and potential belonging for her, a place she imagines settling down with a wife and maybe children. But from aggressive comments about her or other Eastern European people from those around her to Sophie’s stuck up and scary father viewing her as their lowly cleaner, she faces tension around the England she wants to live in. Mirka is a charming central character and the bittersweet ending feels fitting to the book as a whole, with quirks like her newfound taxidermy skills adding a distinctive and often satirical flair. Her relationship with Sophie, and indeed with Richard, is touching, and it is these characters and the messy web they create that makes the book hard to put down.
English Animals is an important novel about contemporary life that shows the perspective of someone who just wants to come and work in Britain and hopes to find a more tolerant society in her new home, but ends up with various kinds of prejudice as well as happiness and opportunity. It combines wit and satire with a story about love and hope, and ends with a fairly ambivalent message about modern life and England.