by Charlotte Mendelson
In this captivating tale of longing and not belonging, sixteen-year-old Marina escapes the stifling warmth of her Hungarian family in Bayswater only to find herself in the chill unforgiving wasteland of a traditional boarding school in Dorset.
The narrative alternates between Marina and her mother, Laura, who, abandoned by her husband, is now living in a tiny flat with his elderly Hungarian relations. Rozsi, Zsuzsi and Ildi, who are a study in faded glamour, exuberance and sentimentality, have prospered from a lingerie business and are at the fragrant centre of their west London mittel-European community. Despite Marina's love for them, when they visit the school she is mortified by their loud foreignness and lack of sophistication ("their excitement when a minor politician's wife came into the shop to buy popsocks").
Like most adolescents, Marina is a mass of contradictions and hormone-fuelled deep feelings. Her passion for the dreary-sounding music scholar, Simon Flowers, is easily forgotten when the more accessible, Guy Viney, begins to pay her attention. But it is when Guy's father, a celebrated historian and TV personality, steps in as mentor that her emotional maturity is really tested.
ALMOST ENGLISH is a great read: clever, witty and often very funny with a quotable line on every page.
Published in hardcover by Mantle, 288pp.