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Almost English

2.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,367 ratings  ·  218 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
Hardcover, 391 pages
Published August 15th 2013 by Pan Macmillan (first published July 23rd 2013)
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Average rating 2.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,367 ratings  ·  218 reviews

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J. Simons
Aug 19, 2013 rated it liked it
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 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
In reference to the Man Booker Prize Longlisting for this novel.

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
Amanda Patterson
Dec 17, 2013 rated it did not like it
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.
Sep 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: class, booker-prize
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 ...more
Andrea Broomfield
Oct 30, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 02, 2013 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Wendy Greenberg
Jul 31, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 17, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Christina Rochester
What can I say about this book? It’s typical Charlotte Mendelson. Her funny and quirky style was there right from the off. And I love her style. I really do. But I feel that compared to When We Were Bad, there is so much lacking. When We Were Bad had a storyline and drama and was gripping. Almost English was kinda meh. There was a story, but even the big reveal was pretty mixed up, and I had to re-read it several times.

I feel like Almost English was taking us on a journey with no sense of its
Joanne Sheppard
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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,
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
Joanne Guidoccio
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“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
Feb 21, 2014 rated it liked it
No one character stood out prominently for me, but I did like the personalities of the sister, and the fact that they had remained together as a group so late in their lives. I loved the fact that they were all so different.
I particularly liked the personality of Zsuzsi, she was quite a character and it sounds like she had an eventful life. I would love to have neighbours like Karolyi sisters, I’m sure they would have lots of interesting stories to tell.
I least liked Guy’s father, Alexander
Mared Owen
Jan 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
DNF at 38%

I just couldn't do it. It started quite well, but it went downhill from there. From what I've read, it's slow, boring and the plot didn't do anything for me. I didn't care for the characters AT ALL. The writing was basically just rambling. Marina and Laura, the protagonists, were annoying. Laura was 'emotionally delicate', ok, but I didn't like her all the same. Marina was like your 'average teenager' worrying about every little detail, which was very relatable at times, but when the
Aug 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: in-my-house, family
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
Jonathan Norton
Jul 30, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Oct 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
As my first read of 2017, this did not inspire confidence in the year ahead! I can't understand how it made the cut for the Man Booker longlist in 2013.

Almost English tells the story of Laura and her daughter Marina who live with their Hungarian relatives in west London. The book focuses on their lives whilst Marina is attending a traditional English boarding school.

This book was disappointing, poorly executed and lacked character development. The main characters were frustrating and boring,
Jayant Maini
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I do not understand the bad reviews about this work of fiction. I think it is an excellent piece of work. A family torn between its lost past and its uncertain future and in the midst of this storm is a girl trying to find her niche. A must's funny at times......with dark undertones......white mixing with black.
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it
what a bloody stupid ending that was
Jan 21, 2015 rated it did not like it
I made it! I suffered through this book! Yeah! I am actually quite proud of myself.

I am a native Hungarian and I found this book incredibly irritating.

The old Hungarian ladies are rather the subject of ridicule than anything else. I am terribly sorry but the accent is one thing, incorrect use of terms is another. The accent usually fades away a bit with the years spent in the native environment but it still remains. I get it. Each time I read Vonderful, vat a pity made me angry. It was funny
Sanjana Bhattacharyya
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
For some reason (possibly the 'Longlisted for Booker' epithet on the cover), I thought this book would be a really good read. Unfortunately, I found it thoroughly mediocre. Sometimes the writing surprised me with similies and comparative style that reminded me of Kiran Desai. But as far as the actual plot is concerned, it was dreadfully boring and not very original at all. A teenager feeling out of place in a not so normal family? It's done to death and the end was pathetically ordinary- I ...more
Kathleen Dixon
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Karen Angelico
Apr 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Charlotte mendelson has a wonderful style that seems to build throughout this novel, starting simply and then growing with a pace that picks up momentum as the story progresses. I was daunted by the many negative comments written about this book (which I probably shouldn't have read before my own reading!) but I am glad to say I disagree with many of the opinions proffered. Mendleson is trying to convey the disjointed feelings of a teenage girl, wrangling not only with the usual dilemmas of ...more
Aug 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, 2013
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
Oct 19, 2013 rated it liked it
This is the kind of book you read "cringing" all the way. I had to finish it to make sure the teenager didn't do something really stupid. Alas, she did. The author is very good at painting what seems an authenic picture of the Hungarian grandmothers and the Hungarian culture. She also captures the angst of being a teenager well, albiet a bit on the extreme side. A light read, irritating at times.
Feb 22, 2016 rated it liked it
I loved the set-up - the claustrophobic London flat, the elderly Hungarian aunties, the neurotic Laura, and Marina's attempt to escape to the awful second-rate boarding school. I loved the Hungarian language, I admired the writing and I enjoyed the comedy. I couldn't love the book though - Marina and Laura are too enormously irritating, despite the cleverness in the author's wry and light-footed descriptions of their idiotic behaviour.
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
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.
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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
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