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Wednesday 13 December 2017
Review: Lawrence Osborne Beautiful Animals
It’s true that most novels nowadays are hostage to their covers, and in this case the novel does little to undo the laziness of a cover which looks like some indifferent A level project. I was surprised because I bought the book on the strength of a puff from Lionel Shriver in The Financial Times. She has an intelligent take on many things so I was hopeful for the novel.
The novel has a plot which is moderately interesting and perhaps more interesting to me because I once knew a rich young woman who thought it would be a good idea to steal the paintings and silverware from her even richer parents’ country home in order to sell them off for a good cause. Like Naomi - the lead character in this novel - she didn’t go to jail for it because a judge from the same social class decided she was the victim of a manipulative male and gave her a suspended sentence and her accomplice a stiff dose of Parkhurst Jail.
But I felt the writing was lazy. The 294 page book has 24 chapters and I began to feel that, yes, the author gets up in the morning, knocks out a chapter in a couple of hours and then goes off to do something more interesting. When he is short of inspiration, he takes out the road map and makes a paragraph out of getting from A to B. When the plot threatens to lose all credibility, he props it up with a hasty improvisation. So to make it minimally credible that self-appointed detective Rockhold is able to get on to the trail of Faoud, he throws in an assistant who is a phone call away with all the information he needs, and doubles it up with a miraculous hotline to the Italian police. It is all terribly casual.
I don’t do plot summaries in my reviews but if I did in this case it wouldn’t take long. It is, I suppose, a strength of the book that it sticks to one story and a small cast of central characters who may be beautiful animals but are not otherwise terribly attractive or interesting. As philosophers of their own lives, they fail badly, though you could say that is part of Osborne’s point: they may be rich and beautiful but when it comes to thinking, well, it's been done better. But for Naomi and her friend Amy, it doesn't seem to matter. They have money and don't really need brains. Only Faoud pays a heavy price.