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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and moving-and you learn some Hungarian!
Saying that this book is primarily about elderly Hungarians probably limits its appeal- but it is the most interesting and entertaining book about elderly Hungarians that you could possibly imagine. Marina- the focus of the book- is their granddaughter and is trying to navigate their world and that of the minor public school that she has pushed hard to attend and is now...
Published 13 months ago by Marian Peacock

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not When We Were Bad
I absolutely loved When We Were Bad, Mendelson's other novel, so I had high expectations for Almost English. I should have guessed that I was only going to be disappointed. Don't get me wrong - this is a well-written and engaging book - but it lacks the warmth and humour of its predecessor. It's very much a north London novel. I lived in north London for a long time, so I...
Published 11 months ago by Miss Marple


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not When We Were Bad, 25 Sep 2013
This review is from: Almost English (Hardcover)
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I absolutely loved When We Were Bad, Mendelson's other novel, so I had high expectations for Almost English. I should have guessed that I was only going to be disappointed. Don't get me wrong - this is a well-written and engaging book - but it lacks the warmth and humour of its predecessor. It's very much a north London novel. I lived in north London for a long time, so I enjoy all the local references/in-jokes, but I guess it could be a bit annoying for people with no interest or knowledge of the area. All in all, worth a read but in a difficult-second-album kind of way.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and moving-and you learn some Hungarian!, 22 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Almost English (Kindle Edition)
Saying that this book is primarily about elderly Hungarians probably limits its appeal- but it is the most interesting and entertaining book about elderly Hungarians that you could possibly imagine. Marina- the focus of the book- is their granddaughter and is trying to navigate their world and that of the minor public school that she has pushed hard to attend and is now in a turmoil of anxiety, uncertainty and regret about. The book perfectly captures that sense of teenage grandiosity and intensity combined with complete misreading of situations and a catastrophic imagination, familiar to many from their own teenage years. The relationship between Marina and her (English) mother is detailed with heart breaking delicacy. There is a stomach-knotting anxiety that runs through the book, and through the reader- but only because you desperate want things to go well and would love to leap into the book and sort the various characters out of their messes and misreadings. This is a really enjoyable read - and you learn about the Austro- Hungarian empire- what more could you ask for?
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, moving and perceptive, 27 Aug 2013
By 
Joanne Sheppard (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Almost English (Hardcover)
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson, which appears on the 2013 Booker longlist, and tells the story of 16-year-old Marina and her mother Laura, both of whom live in a cramped two-bedroom flat in Bayswater with three elderly, increasingly eccentric Hungarian relatives of Laura's husband, who disappeared when Marina was a toddler leaving her mother forced to rely on the hospitality of his family for the next 13 years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Laura, who is also in the midst of a dreary, passion-free affair with her charmless employer, is almost suicidally depressed. Meanwhile Marina, painfully awkward and a mile out of her depth socially, is desperately unhappy at the boarding school to which she has begged her family to send her. Marina can't bear to confess that Combe Abbey has been a disaster, and Laura, missing her daughter every second of every day, can't bear to ask her.

It's possible that this introduction to Almost English hasn't made it sound like a comedy, but that's precisely what it is, albeit an occasionally rather dark one. It's a novel about fitting in, about identity, and about keeping secrets, peppered with cringe-inducing misunderstandings and social confusion - Marina's country house weekend with her sort-of-boyfriend Guy and his wealthy family, all boisterous gun-dogs and dressing for dinner, is particularly excruciating, as is the complete lack of any privacy afforded to either Marina or Laura in the Bayswater flat (Marina's bedroom is a through-route to the flat's bathroom; Laura sleeps on the sofa and keeps her clothes in the sideboard. Marina's elderly aunts are fond of asking her loudly if she's menstruating).

Both Laura and Marina are frustratingly prone to poor decisions and skewed logic, but somehow still likeable - Marina perhaps more so than Laura, who comes across at first as being infuriatingly passive, but comes into her own as the story progresses. Rozsi, Zsuzsi and Ildi, the formidable but ultimately kind, protective relatives who have taken Laura under their wing, are a hoot, and not quite as interchangeable as they might have been in the hands of an author of lesser skill.

My main criticism of Almost English is really with its plot, which contains a couple of rather anticlimactic revelations and concludes rather implausibly, leaving some dangling loose ends. But ultimately the plot of this novel isn't really the point; it's character that matters here, and this is an observant and revealing exploration of what it's like to be part of two communities without quite fitting into either of them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For me, it didn't really go anywhere or say very much. Had high hopes, 7 April 2014
By 
K. J. Noyes "Katy Noyes" (Derbyshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Almost English (Hardcover)
As a two-person story, I must say I was more interested in teenager Marina than mother Laura. Both stories explore the idea of women who don't quite fit in.

Marina has left Ealing School for Girls to pursue her A-Levels at a co-educational boarding school, Combe Abbey, but quickly realises she has made a mistake. In love with another student, she determinedly keeps up with her science studies, despite an affinity for history. She also becomes entangled with a student in the year below, Guy Viney, whose father Alexander turns out to be a historian she very much admires.

Meanwhile her mother Laura, beholden to her vanished husband's elderly relatives for taking them both in, misses her daughter dreadfully and drifts through work, an affair, and a lot of thinking. I didn't find her story particularly interesting. I found Marina quite a well-written teenager though, very much the obsessive and passionate girl whose longings are clouding her judgement.

To be honest, I wasn't enamoured on the whole. I listened to this as an audiobook and could have stopped several times through lack of interest but kept going. I didn't find the family history particularly interesting either, Laura's obsession with her 17-year-old daughter a little overdone, the story with the Vineys didn't grab me either.

I read this because it made the longlists for both the Women's Prize and the Man Booker, but it wasn't for me. Fairly forgettable, and I'm disappointed because I'd expected more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicate balance achieved, 23 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Almost English (Kindle Edition)
Charlotte Mendelson's Almost English offers the reader a well crafted and warmly humorous opportunity to explore two communities - ex-pat Eastern Europeans in London and a posh boarding school in the countryside. Mother and daughter protagonists share with us the sometimes excruciatingly painful life of the 'cuckoo' as they struggle with alien language and mores. Their discomfort is acutely observed in witty and amusing prose that contrasts sharply with their deeply loving but inarticulate and clumsy relationship with each other.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crossing cultures and generations - a wonderful coming of age novel, 19 Nov 2013
By 
K. Z. Sobol (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Almost English (Hardcover)
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I must confess to being drawn to this book because of the Hungarian interest (having lived in Hungary and studied Hungarian) and I love the little glossary of Hungarian phrases at the back of the book (even with the odd typo.) The feel of the Hungarian accent is given through the exaggeration of the English spoken by the older Hungarian relatives and whilst this is a little heavy handed at times, it is a fairly accurate reflection of the exaggerated accents that some, but by no means all Hungarians have when speaking English.

The cultural references aside, the story is one of 3 generations of women and the way in which their lives intertwine and veer off from one another - being pulled together and coming loose, but never being severed entirely, as they are always family of one kind or another.

I enjoyed the range of characters - the older relatives being slight caricatures did not affect my enjoyment of them and the mother and daughter figures show the different kinds of struggles that women of different ages and circumstances can find themselves in.

There are lighter and darker moments in this book, but it was both enjoyable and compelling read and unlike other reviewers, I was carried through the book by the elegant writing and storyline.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Vacuous, 7 Jun 2014
This review is from: Almost English (Kindle Edition)
At last I have finished what I feel was one of the least enjoyable books I have read. I only persevered with it because I had paid money for it, but it required a great deal of determination. First of all, I thought the story line was very thin and not in the least compelling. The characters were frustrating, and the plot dragged on and on without ever really getting anywhere .
The Anglo/Hungarian speak and the tendency to leave sentences unfinished in conversations I found extremely irritating.
I wish I could find some aspect of the book which I could priase, but unfortunately I cannot. I must have missed something, but it is difficult to think what that was.
I am absolutely astonished that this book was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker prize - there are far more deserving books out there.
On the inside cover, the book is regarded as inhabiting similar territory to those of Maggle O'Farrell. I would disagree wholeheartedly. I have always enjoyed Maggie O'Farrell books, which are so cleverly written and keep you guessing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Full English, 22 Nov 2013
By 
G. J. Oxley "Gaz" (Tyne & Wear, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Almost English (Hardcover)
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Marina lives in Bayswater with her mother and three elderly Hungarian aunts, feeling a bit of an outsider. At Combe Abbey, the English public school she escapes to, she's regarded as a foreigner - only half English - and she hates it even prior to things going wrong.

This is an intelligent, well-written book, with a neat, punning title, that was longlisted for the Man Booker, but didn't make it any further. I've not read anything by this author before, and with so many other books in my 'to be read' pile, probably won't again. However, I did enjoy the novel: there is humour in it and the characters are well-drawn; the relationship between young Marina and her mother is well done, and the creaking old aunts are a continual delight.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Funny with dark undertones....., 20 Oct 2013
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Almost English (Hardcover)
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Mother and daughter Laura and Marina were left destitute when Peter disappeared from their lives. They now live in a basement flat in London with Laura's mother-in-law and two aunts. They are Hungarian and although they have lived in England for many years they still cherish much of their homeland - the language, the food, the customs, the clothes.

Laura is very fragile emotionally and has not recovered from her husband's desertion. She works for a local doctor with whom she is having a lacklustre affair. Her living arrangements are very odd and she does not appear to have her own bedroom in the flat. It seems strange that anyone in the 1980s would put up with these living arrangements - made all the more curious by the fact that the family has gathered together enough money to pay for private education for Marina.
This allegedly "good" boarding school turns out to be nothing like the one that Marina has dreamed of. She was hoping for a sort of Malory Towers and is sadly disappointed by everything. She and her mother miss each other dreadfully but are unable express this in words. The author is at her best when describing the agonies of young Marina in understanding the world. She never knows the right thing to say or wear. She is constantly confused by cutlery and even by the etiquette of using a strange bathroom in the middle of the night. (To flush or not?)

Marina falls under the influence of an older man and is seduced (suckered?) into believing what he tells her about what subjects she should study and to which university she should apply.

Although there was some excellent writing the story was rather slight and it was difficult to engage with Laura's problems and the reappearance of Peter. However the parts about Marina's struggles to grow up and gain confidence were really enjoyable. Very funny with some dark undertones.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 1 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Almost English (Kindle Edition)
I bought this book because I'd read good reviews in the press but I didn't enjoy it as much as I was hoping to. The strongest element is the characterisation of the elderly Trans-Carpathian women and the plot (teenage girl going to country boarding school while her mother faces her own demons) could have worked well. What spoilt it for me was the succession of embarrassing incidents that were perhaps meant to be funny but which contributed nothing to the story.
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Almost English
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson (Hardcover - 1 Aug 2013)
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