Author(s): Charlotte Mendelson
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013 and the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2014 Home is a foreign country: they do things differently there ...In a tiny flat in West London, sixteen-year-old Marina lives with her emotionally delicate mother, Laura, and three ancient Hungarian relatives. Imprisoned by her family's crushing expectations and their fierce unEnglish pride, by their strange traditions and stranger foods, she knows she must escape. But the place she runs to makes her feel even more of an outsider. At Combe Abbey, a traditional English public school for which her family have sacrificed everything, she realises she has made a terrible mistake. She is the awkward half-foreign girl who doesn't know how to fit in, flirt or even be. And as a semi-Hungarian Londoner, who is she? In the meantime, her mother Laura, an alien in this strange universe, has her own painful secrets to deal with, especially the return of the last man she'd expect back in her life. She isn't noticing that, at Combe Abbey, things are starting to go terribly wrong.
'Charlotte Mendelson is much admired by the cognoscenti and Almost English ought to be a bestseller. The account of a girl from a family of Hungarian aunts, dealing with love and old lechers at a ghastly boarding school in the 1980s, is sheer bliss - pure rueful comedy with endless resourcefulness ... I adore her novels and wish there were many more of them' Philip Hensher, Spectator 'Mendelson's keen eye for what makes relationships tick has already led to a place on the shortlist for the Women's (formerly Orange) Prize and new novel Almost English is as good as we'd hoped ... This funny, wise and heart-warming 1980s-set novel is perfect summer reading' Elle 'Charlotte Mendelson's fourth novel is a deliciously funny tale of dysfunctional families. The Farkases recall characters from fairy tales or Roald Dahl: an all-female household comprising three pensioners, an abandoned wife and a teenage girl squeezed into a tiny flat "in the barely respectable depths of Bayswater". Reading Mendelson's easy, assured prose is like sinking into something soft and velvety' Telegraph Top 10 Summer Holiday Reads 'Exotic, magnificent and just a little bit sinister, it is the Hungarian characters who take over this beautifully written novel ... Mendelson's novels inhabit similar territory to those of Maggie O'Farrell, with the same capacity for extreme noticing, the same profound emotional intelligence shaping the characters and driving the narrative. But Mendelson's world is sharper, her sense of the world a little more cynical. Almost English has been longlisted for this year's Booker; it deserves to win for the quality of the writing alone ... Almost English is a delight. Beautifully written, warm, funny and knowing, it manages to seize an entire slice of Europe for itself, a vast empire full of new and interesting questions about how close, and how far apart, all these postwar worlds have made us. Above all, it is written with love. And good food' Observer 'Charlotte Mendelson's Man Booker Prize-longlisted novel takes that most English of literary genres - the boarding school comedy - and spices it with exotic ingredients drawn from Hungarian culture ... Almost English is Mendelson's fourth novel - her previous book, When We Were Bad (2007), was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction - and it demonstrates a mastery of narrative craft ... the prose is a pure joy ... And the whole book is sprinkled with handsome Hungarian phrases - Krumplisalata, Hogy vagy, Egyszersmind - like a strudel dusted with sugar. It makes for a deliciously moreish read' Financial Times 'The Booker longlisted novel is a warm, wry and lively account of teenager Marina ... the humanity in Mendelson's observations and her clever, comic writing make this a sparkling treat' Metro 'Almost English is long-listed for this year's Man Booker Prize, and Charlotte Mendelson writes of the inner monologues and quiet frustrations that plague an all-female, half-Hungarian household trying to fit into society with a wry humour that carries echoes of Zadie Smith and Zoe Heller' Stylist Top 10 must-reads of August 'Mendelson's wonderfully tortured Man Booker longlisted drama of secrets and longings ... In a novel packed with sly observation and stealthy wit, this is just one moment: Almost English is a finely executed comedy of manners, with a dark side ... Mendelson has produced three critically acclaimed novels already, including the Orange Prize-shortlisted When We Were Bad. Here again, she masterminds events with wit and ingenuity, shifting moods from darkness to light in an instant, and delivering some glorious moments of uproarious comedy. In Marina and Laura's troubled relationship she finds a powerful source of dramatic tension; but it's not the only one. Plot twists abound ... Tensions build, a real crisis looms, and family history is revealed ... But Almost English isn't blinkered, or naive. One of its charms is its apparent simplicity, masquerading as something light; just a good read. Don't be fooled. Call it Jane Austen for the 21st century - a novel on a small scale, full of private preoccupations and a mischievously overblown supporting cast; a novel that nevertheless says something profound about the human condition' Scotsman 'Charlotte Mendelson's characters are always in some kind of exile - literal, metaphorical and quite often both ... People are constantly either furiously stifling dangerous secrets or rushing to declare them, only to be thwarted at the last minute; misunderstandings multiply and create horrible collision courses; the emotionally desperate are on the verge of being overwhelmed by those more charismatic and canny. All these disasters and near-disasters are recounted in heady prose that manages to unite the comic, the melodramatic and the straightforwardly moving. Almost English, her fourth novel, has just been longlisted for the Man Booker prize and it isn't difficult to see why: it is a little masterpiece of characterisation and milieu.There is plenty of plot and movement in Almost English, many changes of scene and points of view. It all adds to the book's considerable energy, but is not its main achievement ... Mendelson is wonderful on the fraught mother-daughter bond and on both the claustrophobia and delights of domestic family life, which are rendered in sentences crammed with telling incidentals. But where Mendelson succeeds is in the way she shows us how hard we will fight to escape what we love most; how we jeopardise it even when we want to protect it more than anything' Guardian
Charlotte Mendelson's last novel, When We Were Bad, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and was chosen as a book of the year in the Observer, Guardian, Sunday Times, New Statesman and Spectator. She is also the author of Love in Idleness and Daughters of Jerusalem, which won both the Somerset Maugham Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Almost English is her fourth novel. www.charlottemendelson.com @CharlotteMende1