Beautiful Animals: A Novel,
by Lawrence Osborne
Publication: Hogarth; July 18, 2017
About the book:
On a hike during a white-hot summer break on the Greek island of Hydra, Naomi and Samantha make a startling discovery: a man named Faoud, sleeping heavily, exposed to the elements, but still alive. Naomi, the daughter of a wealthy British art collector who has owned a villa in the exclusive hills for decades, convinces Sam, a younger American girl on vacation with her family, to help this stranger. As the two women learn more about the man, a migrant from Syria and a casualty of the crisis raging across the Aegean Sea, their own burgeoning friendship intensifies. But when their seemingly simple plan to help Faoud unravels all must face the horrific consequences they have set in motion.
In this brilliant psychological study of manipulation and greed, Lawrence Osborne explores the dark heart of friendship and shows just how often the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions.
Who, What, When, etc.
Beautiful Animals is a novel about a young woman named Naomi while vacationing with her father and stepmother at their summer home in Greece. Naomi is in her twenties, finished law school, but has already had an unsuccessful career. Naomi has a strained, yet somewhat affectionate relationship with her wealthy, art collector father and has a very cold and distant relationship with her stepmother.
Samantha (Sam) is also a young woman vacationing on the Greek island of Hydra, a few years younger than Naomi and with a more close-knit family. Although also from a very wealthy family, Sam is much more naive and innocent than Naomi, thus beginning an interesting friendship.
During a day excursion on Naomi’s family’s yacht, Naomi and Sam discover a man on the far end of the island, sleeping, and obviously injured. After some time they realize he is there illegally from Syria, but without him providing much detail regarding his circumstances. They decide they want to help him and the young women continue bringing him supplies, helping him with private places to stay, and eventually provide him with means to a great deal of wealth without truly considering the consequences.
Thoughts & Reactions
Occasionally I will look at reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. prior to writing my review, simply because I wonder if a particular reaction is just me, or if others have felt the same. Beautiful Animals is one that I did look at other reviews prior to writing this, but it appears as if the things I enjoyed, most others didn’t, and vice versa.
Let me start with the actual writing. Lawrence Osborne has crafted a beautiful novel. This is one of those novels that while reading, you feel as if you are floating on some perfect cloud of perfect imagery, description, and dialogue. This is masterful writing that requires thinking and feeling on your part as a reader. Moreover, I cannot imagine how anyone could read this book without developing overwhelming wanderlust. The descriptions of the landscape, food, alcohol, people, etc. have solidified my desire and need to visit Greece (and Italy).
Similar to an issue I had recently with another novel, there was not one character in this novel that I liked, or even respected for that matter. Naomi has lived an overly privileged life, with the exception of the death of her mother when Naomi was a teenager. Living in London with family homes in Italy and Greece, Naomi has been sheltered and spoiled beyond belief, although she was also extremely intelligent and independent. Her father Jimmie and her stepmother Phaine were basically narcissistic, alcoholic social climbers with even fewer redeeming qualities than Naomi.
Sam and her family were wealthy New Yorkers, but much less pretentious than Naomi’s family. There were several references to Sam playing Scrabble with her father or going to the beach with her mother – things that would never have occurred with Naomi’s family. Remaining characters included the angry and diabolical maid Carissa, Faoed the illegal young man from Syria, and Jimmie’s friend and odd, secretive business partner Rockhold. All of them had equally unpleasant characteristics.
Regarding the overall plot of the novel, I found it unique, engaging, and interesting. This wasn’t the best novel for me to take along on a weekend camping trip, but I did find myself captivated and unable to put it down. This wasn’t just a “rich girl helping a refugee story,” but something much more complex about people in general. Why are people willing to risk so much for a stranger? Why do some people feel compelled to put their own family at risk for a cause? What has happened in a person’s life to make them completely numb to consequences of one’s behavior?
As always, I don’t want to give spoilers, but this novel is a shining example of a wealthy, spoiled woman that feels so entitled she is unable to look beyond herself. Naomi frequently plays the “I had a bad parent card” throughout the novel as a justification to herself and others, but it did nothing to inspire me to be more tolerant of her.
Readers that enjoy higher-level writing that is thought-provoking (both good and bad), should enjoy and respect this novel. I loved the writing, as well as, the overall plot idea. However, if you need to make a connection with a particular character in order to enjoy a novel, Beautiful Animals is not the book for you.
*Thanks to Blogging for Books for this novel in exchange for an honest review.