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Almost English

2.94 of 5 stars 2.94  ·  rating details  ·  652 ratings  ·  140 reviews
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 plac...more
Hardcover, 391 pages
Published August 15th 2013 by Pan Macmillan (first published July 23rd 2013)
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A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiThe Lowland by Jhumpa LahiriThe Luminaries by Eleanor CattonTransAtlantic by Colum McCannThe Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
2013 Man Booker Prize Longlist
13th out of 13 books — 221 voters
Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanThe Rosie Project by Graeme SimsionTransAtlantic by Colum McCannThe Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
Man Booker Prize Eligible 2013
60th out of 177 books — 272 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,385)
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J. Simons
I was really looking forward to reading this novel but was ultimately disappointed. Mendelson starts off well with her creation of the ancient Hungarian family crammed into a a London flat smothering their daughter-in-law with advice and Hungarian delicacies. The prose is clean, the characters well-developed and above all, it was really funny. However, as the narrative develops and the core story line of the relationship between Laura and her daughter emerges, things start to go awry. Mendelson...more
Aug 25, 2013 Elaine rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
This book just took forever going no place. Both main characters - Marina and her mum - are utterly frustrating and tongue tied, chapters upon chapters go by with nothing more than a recitation of the anxious impossibility of telling each other that they are each unhappy. You will want to give each a hard shaking. The plot "twists" are foreseen from very early on (there's only one place Marina's infatuation with the Vineys can be going, as soon as you know that Alexander Viney is taking a peculi...more
Some authors manage to use the most mundane characters and settings and build great works of art around them. Mendelson starts with an advantage in that regard, her characters are nothing if they are not colourful. However, she manages to squander the women who "did their sums and reading in Russian and spoke Hungarian to their parents but the town was Czech" by assigning them to little more than stereotypical exclamations of 'Vondairefool' and 'Vot-apity', while her main characters simply go ar...more
Aug 25, 2013 Antonomasia rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Antonomasia by: Booker longlist
Quite a sweet, light semi-comic novel. Seemed pretty good for the sort of thing it is - the writing was better than I expect from anything with an almost-chicklit cover. (I'd barely heard of Charlotte Mendelson before and wouldn't have picked this up if I wasn't reading Booker books this year). Very nice use of free indirect style. But then a hypothetical half star got knocked off by an event less than ten pages from the end - not exactly deus ex machina, but it looked like the work of someone w...more
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson is a unique and quirky read and the blurb above sums it up so well so I won’t rehash it. I don’t think I’d class it strictly as YA but I see no reason why teens would not enjoy this, though it’s more literary than most YA.

I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of sadness upon starting this book, as well as despair, especially when it came to Laura’s parts and her continual thoughts about ending her life. Marina is so unsure of herself, she has a vivid imag...more
Andrea Broomfield
I look forward to the Booker Prize Longlist every year, and I try to read at least one before the Booker Prize winner is announced. _Almost English_ leaped out at me because the plot synopsis was enticing. I love novels about England, social class, education, and girlhood, and this novel is about all of these topics. Nonetheless, the novel was disappointing. I do give it three stars because I made it to the end, and if that happens, the book was worth the effort.

Intellectually, I think I "get it...more
Charlotte Mendelson CAN write, which is why this wasn't just a blah book to me, but an actively, offensively bad one. In ways made clearest to me in her author's note, which states in effect that because she herself "grew up knowing only the smallest and most confused details" of her maternal grandparents' cultural background, making her characters equally ignorant provided "a wonderful excuse" to substitute repetitive lists of forreng foodstuff (ooh!) and strange old-lady clothes (ewww!!) and f...more
No, no, no, no, no, no and no. Sorry judges but seriously how did this novel make it onto the 2013 longlist? I would hope that there was some heated debate about including it, otherwise Robert Macfarlane (Cambridge AND Oxford), Robert Douglas-Fairhurst (Oxford), Natalie Haynes (The Independent and The Guardian), Martha Kearney (BBC) and Stuart Kelly (The Scotsman, The Guardian and The Times) have a bit of explaining to do. Such noble qualifications and history amongst you and I know reading 151...more
I deliberately waited a few days to post this review to see if I was being too tough on this book. Unfortunately I had to check my Kindle to recall the title and can't remember many of the characters' names. This is on the Booker longlist. Maybe, once again, it's just me.

It fulfils the brief: lower-class immigrants in London, private school in England, coming-of-age story and middle-age story intertwined, thoughtful musings in finding identity that many of us who have lived in the UK and were bo...more
Wendy Greenberg
Really didn't like this book although I have enjoyed all Charlotte Mendelson's previous novels. Was hugely irritated by the Hungarian pronunciation inflicted on English words - my imagination would have done this for me...Thought the various story layers were irritating rather than clever....and as for the endless pages of school life...just tedious. I am astonished this is a Booker longlist novel.
I suppose it is intended as a comedy of manners, the suffocating tightly knit old Hungarian matriar...more
Amanda Patterson
Almost English is an ordinary book without a plot. It is another one of those novels by a literary author whose good writing skills can only get her so far.
It is agonisingly slow with two annoying, spineless women - Laura and Marina - as main characters. They live with three ancient Hungarian relatives in a tiny flat in West London. And nothing happens.
This is one of those books that reminds me why I mostly avoid reading novels that are nominated for literary prizes.
Now, umm, I want to, uh, say, uh write that, I did umm, I couldn't, I umm, well not completely, liked or disliked, hmmm, actually, I mean, wanted to like this book, but...sorry, I just...umm, well, it was pretty annoying, sorry...but I have to say, well that's about it...

Most of Charlotte Mendelson's Almost English is written in this totally annoying style. Can her 2 protagonists, Laura and her daughter, Marina, be so alike, be so indecisive, so annoying? And even if they were, why tell us this...more
Jonathan Norton
Charlotte Mendelson's latest novel after a long break is almost an anthology of elements from the previous 3. There is a cast of women of different ages, with problems that interconnect in ways they are often unaware of. There is a dirty-minded middle-aged respected man seeking to exploit the youngest female. There is an old secret about to the revealed. And the main characters are all part of a minority group, which has pretty much assimilated in to the English middle-class, but they still are...more
Joanne Sheppard
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-fr...more
Kathleen Dixon
On my first day of reading this I read to page 89 and was of two minds whether to bother continuing. A week later I was on page 167 (no, I don't really read so terribly slowly - it's just my very small lunchbreak book, 3 days a week) and very nearly threw the bookmark away and marked it "unfinished". However, I read the last few pages, and a wee bit randomly, and decided I'd like to know what happened in between. Now I've finished it fully and am thinking I might as well not have. Still, it was...more
A gentle, rather old fashioned story about a teenager trying to fit in at her new boarding school, mainly by denying the existence of her loving but embarrassing, elderly Hungarian relatives. I can imagine that anyone with elderly Central-European relatives will probably be able to relate to some of the characters portrayed; I lived in Central Europe for a couple of years and did come across people who fit the stereotypes displayed here very well. At the same time anyone who has been thrown into...more
Joanne Guidoccio
“Almost English is about the ugly years and a startlingly plain adolescent.”

While Author Charlotte Mendelson’s description is definitely apt, the novel is actually held together by two protagonists—mother and daughter—facing their own crises in West London during the 1980s.

Sixteen-year-old Marina is being raised by her emotionally fragile mother Laura and three elderly Hungarian relatives in a cramped basement flat filled with strange traditions and even stranger foods.

Longing to escape this tin...more
Seventeen-year-old Marina is suffering from a surfeit of romanticism and elderly Austro-Hungarian relatives. To escape the latter, she has gone off to boarding school, where her overpowering self-consciousness continues to set her apart, despite various overtures of friendliness from other girls. When befriended by a younger boy whose family turns out to be everything that Englishness represents to Marina, the scene is set for a hilarious, horribly uncomfortable unravelling of events and charact...more
I think that Mendelson might well be one of the best contemporary British authors and she is very deft at writing about characters who are conflicted about their British/Englishness and the mismatch that occurs between immigrant families (in this case Hungarian) and British society. There is a truly excruciating (but fantastic) set-piece about halfway through where Marina, the young protagonist, goes to visit her boyfriend's family - she's from London, her family is entirely the Hungarian aunts...more
Incredibly angtsy characters to the point of frustration. They spent a lot of time speculating great drama in their heads but never talking. The three elderly relatives were interchangeable and flat.
It only became interesting in the second last chapter.
Almost English, the story of a part Hungarian school-girl trying to find her place, is the second Women’s Prize Longlisted books I read. In part, one of my fondest memory was a holiday in Budapest so I have decided to read this.

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...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Renita D'Silva
I don't know quite what to make of this book. Let me start with what I liked. I LOVED the Hungarian grandmothers and the description of the culture and their lifestyle. I loved the way each character speaks to you, they are all flawed and trapped in situations of their own doing which they cannot quite get out of. Marina and her mother Laura's struggles are expertly drawn, they are more similar than they know and both trying and failing to show how much they care for each other. I found that ver...more
This is a story of an unhappy mother and daughter who are not very good at making decisions about their lives, against a backdrop of three elderly Hungarian speaking sisters. The story is weak.
All three sisters have strong accents, even the one who has been in the UK since 1938, which I think we are supposed to find hilarious. Hm, perhaps I should have listened to the audio version. This part of the book is partly based on the author's own grandparents, who were born in an area of the Austro-Hu...more
Katy Noyes
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...more
I was very interested in picking up this book because I'm a foreigner trying to fit in in London and I have a very complicated background/nationality/culture. I wanted to hear about the difficulty of not really understanding the culture of your family (or part of your family), and also not being able to be completely local because of this family baggage that just can't be erased. Instead, I got a book full of the internal 'struggles' of two women whose brains turn into jelly whenever they open t...more
I thought this was fantastic! I don't usually enjoy books where the author is introducing a dialect by way of pronunciation but the casual dip into the Hungarian language coupled with the Hungarian pronunciation of English words was a really nice insight. Additionally, the latter was just hilarious when I found myself reading some of the words out loud. Admittedly it did take a while to decipher some of the words but also there's a handy glossary at the back if you struggle.

The story, the chara...more
Beth Bonini
I read a positive review of this book that made me quite intrigued by the subject matter. Mother/daughter relationships (check); the challenges of cultural assimilation (check); British boarding schools (check). And to be fair, it's not that Mendelson can't write . . . at least in the technical sense. But this book was such an unmitigated BORE that I'm amazed that I bothered to finish it. I just kept on expecting that the story would start moving forward and that something would actually happen,...more
Sally Tarbox
perhaps not 'VON-darefool, September 22, 2014

This review is from: Almost English (Kindle Edition)
I quite liked the first half, following Marina - a half Hungarian girl - who has chosen to go to boarding school, but now feels utterly homesick and yet unable to tell her family. Simultaneously the novel follows her rather ineffectual mother, Laura, who, since her husband left her, has had to live with his elderly Hungarian mother and her sisters, her life no longer her own. She too is pining - for...more
Helen Stanton
I was a little disappointed by this one ...... Some v acute observations on family life and teenage angst but the central story was a little laboured and very anti climatic. 3.5 Stars is probably fairer
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Charlotte Mendelson (born 1972) is a British novelist and editor. Her maternal grandparents were, in her words, "Hungarian-speaking-Czech, Ruthenian for about 10 minutes, Carpathian mountain-y, impossible to describe", who left Prague in 1939.
When she was two, she moved with her parents and her baby sister to a house in a cobbled passage next to St John's College, Oxford, where her father taught p...more
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