Home » Life & Style » Books

Almost English

almost englishOur April book club choice is Charlotte Mendelson's darkly funny Almost English. 

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 place she runs to makes her feel even more of an outsider.

At Combe Abbey, a traditional English public school for which her family have sacrificed everything, Marina realises she has made a terrible mistake. She is the awkward half-foreign girl who doesn’t know how to fit in, flirt or even be. And as a semi-Hungarian Londoner, who is she?

In the meantime, her mother Laura, an alien in this strange universe, has her own painful secrets to deal with, especially the return of the last man she’d expect back in her life. She isn’t noticing that, at Combe Abbey, things are starting to go terribly wrong.

Charlotte Mendelson's fourth novel, published in August 2013, was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and has gathered much critical acclaim. Philip Hensher, writing for the Spectator, says: "Charlotte Mendelson is much admired by the cognoscenti and Almost English ought to be a bestseller. The account of a girl from a family of Hungarian aunts, dealing with love and old lechers at a ghastly boarding school in the 1980s, is sheer bliss - pure rueful comedy with endless resourcefulness...I adore her novels and wish there were many more of them." 

Charlotte MendelsonThe folks at Elle were similarly impressed: "Mendelson’s keen eye for what makes relationships tick has already led to a place on the shortlist for the Women’s (formerly Orange) Prize and new novel Almost English is as good as we’d hoped... This funny, wise and heart-warming 1980s-set novel is perfect summer reading."

And the book also appeared on The Telegraph's Top 10 Summer Holiday Reads: "Charlotte Mendelson’s fourth novel is a deliciously funny tale of dysfunctional families. The Farkases recall characters from fairy tales or Roald Dahl: an all-female household comprising three pensioners, an abandoned wife and a teenage girl squeezed into a tiny flat “in the barely respectable depths of Bayswater”. Reading Mendelson’s easy, assured prose is like sinking into something soft and velvety."

Author, Charlotte Mendelson, was born in London in 1972 and grew up in Oxford. Her first short story, Blood Sugar, was published in New Writing 7 and twice broadcast on Radio 4. Her first novel, Love In Idleness, was largely written in her lunch breaks at work.

Other things you might like...

For Daughters Of Jerusalem, her second novel, she was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award, and was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Charlotte also received the London Arts New London Writers’ Award and a K. Blundell Trust Award, and was shortlisted for Le Prince Maurice Roman d’Amour Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.

Her third novel, When We Were Bad, was published in May 2007, and was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2008. She was also chosen as one of Waterstone's 25 authors of the future. 

Almost English is available now in paperback from Amazon. Unfortunately all the free copies have gone. If you do receive a copy, keep an eye out for the Q&A thread, where you can put your questions to