A funny, subversive and poignant debut novel from an exciting new writer.
With the above strapline, a quintessential english rural setting where I’ve revelled in many a tale from the pens of Alliott, Cooper, Mansel, Walker et al but told exclusively from a fresh point of view – the first person narrator is a young Slovakian woman Mirka – alongside the promise of appealing to fans of Nina Stibbe, I couldn’t resist reading and hosting a spot on the Blog Tour for English Animals the debut from Laura Kaye.
Mirka has fled her home following the scandalous disclosure of the affair with her female – married – English Teacher made worse by the latter’s denial and rejection.
After an unhappy spell in London she finds herself in the employment of Sophie and Richard in rural England; helping Sophie with hostelry duties while developing new skills – and opportunities – in Taxidermy assisting Richard. The couple’s relationship already seems unstable and at times volatile; Mirka developing feelings for Sophie only complicates matters further.
It certainly lives up to the promised romantic comedy elements with astute characterisation and wry observations; together with the darker undercurrent which illuminates the more strained relationships and prejudices, and indeed Mirka’s own predicament, the story becomes compelling.
To whet your appetites further here’s an extract…
‘The house is just down there,’ the taxi driver said, pointing in front.
I took off my belt and moved between the seats to look. We were at the top of a big hill. Below were squares and diamonds of green and brown fields all the way to the sunset. Then I saw the house. It was more perfect than the one I had been dreaming about. A red cube in the middle of the land, like someone had thrown a dice. I could not believe that I was going to live there.
At the bottom of the hill we turned off the road and drove across the stones in front of the house. Out of the window I watched the line of pigeons sitting on the electricity wires.
Suddenly there was a loud bang and I covered my head with my hands from the shock. A bird fell from the wire like a stone. The other pigeons flew off the wire in all directions, not understanding what happened to their friend. Then there was another bang and I saw the gun at the last window on the first floor of the house.
I got out of the car and pulled my rucksack from the seat next to me. When I bent down to pay the driver through the car window, there was another bang above us.
‘Good luck,’ he said, raising his eyebrows.
As the taxi turned and drove away, a woman came running towards me holding her green hat with one hand to stop it from falling. She was breathing hard and her cheeks were pink, her eyes wild. Two brown- and- white dogs ran next to her.
‘What the fuck is he doing?’ she said, looking at me as if I knew the answer.
I opened my mouth to say something but she ran up the steps and into the house. I had imagined arriving at the house so many times, but it was never like this. I realised I knew nothing about these people. Richard and Sophie sounded like good names for good people. But they could be anything, they could be completely crazy.
I waited outside on the step. After a few minutes I was too cold and decided to go inside. I brushed my feet on the mat, went into the dark hall and put my rucksack next to the empty fireplace. Upstairs I could hear a man and a woman shouting, their voices cloudy in the distance. On the wall there was a metal switch and I pushed it up. Above my head a big iron chandelier of yellow lights came alive.
The first thing I saw were the dead animals. They were everywhere on the walls, some in glass boxes, some not. Their eyes seemed to stare directly at me.
Next to the door was a white owl with bright yellow eyes landing on a branch with her wings open. Then there were two squirrels eating nuts inside a glass box, then another box with a black bird inside, picking up a worm from the earth in his beak. There were all kinds of birds, some foreign and colourful, some more English- looking brown ones, lots of mice and rabbits, a few small, long animals like the ones used for making fur coats, and a big grey animal with a black- and- white stripy face. I felt something powerful from them. They were not decorations like lamps. They had been breathing animals full of flowing blood. And now they lived together in a zoo of death, watching the people who came in and out of the house.
I walked towards the fox inside a big glass box on the wall opposite the door. When I arrived at the glass I felt that the fox had heard my steps and froze. Her head was turned towards me like she was listening. I stared at her. She was amazing. I had never been so close to a fox in my life. She had rich orange fur and a white chest. There was a bird between her teeth and she looked at me with suspicious eyes, as if she thought I was going to steal the bird.
The artist had made a beautiful natural home for the fox to live in. The back of the box was painted blue for the sky and her black feet were walking on grass with rocks and moss and ferns. She seemed so alive. But I knew she was dead, and if I looked at her for ever, she would look at me for ever too. But she would stay the same and I would grow old. My hair would grow long and grey, lines would cut into my face, my skin would become loose, until one day I would fall to the ground and turn to dust in front of the eyes of the fox.
My thanks to Hayley of Little Brown for the eBook review copy via Netgalley.
For more thoughts and information about English Animals do visit the other stops on the Blog Tour and Laura’s site