- Book: Beautiful Animals
- Location: Hydra
- Author: Lawrence Osborne
Lawrence Osborne was recently interviewed in The Sunday Times, where he stated: “For me, place is everything… I spend more time thinking about that than anything“. A natural shoe-in for a top author slot on the TripFiction website. And well deserved it is too!
I read The Forgiven by the same author, set in Morocco, just a few years ago, and the colour and vividness of the setting have stayed with me until the present day. In fact that book, with its powerful locale, was one of the books that prompted us to set up the TripFiction Website.
Similarly, Beautiful Animals proves to be an exciting immersion into the Greek setting of Hydra, nestled in the Aegean, which the author has chosen for this novel. It is an island that has always attracted journalists and artists, including the Durrells and Leonard Cohen. He beautifully renders the rugged terrain, the coves, the sea and bristling heat, all forming a sultry and suffocating backdrop for a story that cuts through to baser and misguided human nature.
A young woman, Naomi Codrington, has been sacked from her work in a London law firm for her disastrous handling of what she perceived as a racially motivated case. Throughout her life she has somehow felt “tainted by her family and privilege“, yet she is spending the Summer on Hydra with her Father and his new wife, nicknamed Funny. But there is nothing funny about the family dynamics. Naomi’s relationship with her father has always been strained – he was building his empire during her early years and the relationship with Funny-Phaine, is hostile, cutting both ways. Days loom endlessly and soon Naomi has befriended a slightly younger, and at times impressionable American young woman, Sam.
The two young women are privileged to be able to take the Codrington yacht out to sail around the island and on one of their walks from the boat, they stumble across Faoud, a Syrian refugee in a remote area. He becomes a cause for Naomi, perhaps a way of rectifying her mismanagement of the case in London, a way of making her feel better about her own privileged status. She also has her acolyte, Sam, who is cajoled into assisting her to set up a fake robbery, a plan that would liberate Faoud back into the world and give him a future. It is carefully planned, ably assisted by Carissa, the maid who brews variations of hemlock tea; it doesn’t even cross Naomi’s mind that something could possibly go wrong. But of course it does.
The second half of the book ventures briefly to Italy, which is equally well described.
The author excels not only at rendering a tangible sense of location (I feel I have “visited” Hydra although unfortunately as yet I have not). It describes an island full of socially privileged and bookish English, gradually being displaced by the Russians and Emirati. Place, both imaginary and real – Vlychos, and Kaminia, where you can find Kodylenia’s Restaurant which actually exists – is a real character in its own right in the novel.
The book is also terrific at bringing to life a sensuous and sinister world, where the rich continue their time honoured traditions of art appreciation and carousing on the island, whilst elsewhere the Greeks struggle to get by. He creates characters who are rich and darkly veined, visceral and where the characters are prisoners of their unconscious drives.
The writing can really be savoured! I took my time reading it, and it paid off. You will come away, not only relishing the detail of location and character in the novel, but you may learn a little more about the Greeks and their culture and what apotonthea means, a very useful term! Highly recommended, a top read for 2017.