‘Beautiful Animals’ by Lawrence Osborne – A Dazzling Dreadful Summer on a Greek Island

 

‘Beautiful Animals’ by Lawrence Osborne   (2017) – 287 pages

“A summer was just a summer, and its dead bodies should remain confined to it.”

Two young women, Naomi and Amy, develop a friendship over summer while their families stay on the Greek island of Hydra. The Greece debt crisis is a tragedy for the Greek people as they must now live in austere circumstances.  However there are still all of these obscenely rich families from around the world including England and the United States who stay at their villas on the Greek islands to spend their dazzling summer vacations going to stylish restaurants and tavernas and private parties and perhaps swimming in the sea at some secluded spot.

The summer intensifies for Naomi and Amy when they discover a young man, Faoud, escaped from Syria and washed up on shore in one of these secluded spots.

“To save another person: it wasn’t nothing … it was a small shift in the balance of power towards the weak.”

What could be more romantic for these two young women than saving this young good-looking Muslim guy who speaks correct English and needs their help?

“His misfortunes made him charismatic,” Naomi thinks, “and therefore arousing.”

Naomi comes up with a so-called “plan”.   However events tumble out of control as they tend to do.  Later the action switches from Greece to Italy.

In dealing with these international situations of intrigue, Lawrence Osborne comes about as close as any modern writer to Graham Greene.   Osborne’s writing doesn’t quite have the quirky charm of Graham Greene but his efficient prose does speed you along and makes for compulsive reading.  David Sexton in the Evening Standard has described Lawrence Osborne as “pitilessly good” and said that comparisons with Graham Greene “aren’t even flattering anymore”.   I would not quite go that far as I have read over a dozen Graham Greene novels and consider Greene the gold standard in international intrigue novels.  However Lawrence Osborne is among the best of the English writers today carrying on that noble travel tradition of Graham Greene.

“There is nothing more exasperating than reading in contemporary guidebooks disparagements of places that are deemed to be “seedy.” Do the writers not notice that such places are invariably crowded with people? When a neighborhood is described as “seedy” by some Lonely Planet prude, I immediately head there.” – Lawrence Osborne

 

Grade :   A-

 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I read his previous novel, Hunters in the Dark, and thought it was exceptional. He is a very democratic writer, no absolutes, and also a real “five senses” describer. Will be checking Beautiful Animals out in due course.

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    • Hi zungg,
      I haven’t read ‘Hunters in the Dark’, but the only one of the three Osborne novels I’ve read I wasn’t real impressed with was ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’. ‘The Forgiven’ is also an excellent read. As you say Osborne does treat his characters fairly regardless of race or class.

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  2. Dreadful cover. Still, that’s not really a marker for much (save maybe to read it on kindle). Wasn’t quite sure about this quote: “His misfortunes made him charismatic,” Naomi thinks, “and therefore arousing.” Do partying twentysomethings really use terms such as misfortune and arousing?

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    • Hi Max,
      I can see smart twenty somethings talking that way even today. I agree the cover is dreadful, but sometimes the publishers overdo it when they try to sell a literary author as something else. A nice scenic Greek island picture would have been much better.
      i think you should give Lawrence Osborne a try as he is as close to a Graham Greene as we have got today.

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