Beautifully crafted and psychologically astute, Osborne’s (Hunters in the Dark, 2016, etc.) latest novel takes us on another journey through a heart of moral darkness.
The “beautiful animals” of the title refer to two young women. Naomi Codrington is 24, rich, bored, and recently unemployed. She lives with her father and stepmother (refer to fairy tales for insight into that relationship) in a villa on a Greek island, a venue whose languorous sultriness provides a perfect backdrop for the unfolding of the action. Samantha “Sam” Haldane, a few years younger than Naomi, comes to the island for a summer with her family, and the two women strike up an uneasy friendship. Naomi is amoral and charismatic, a deadly combination for someone like Sam, who is naïve and dependent. In a remote place on the islands they discover Faoud, a man they take as a Syrian refugee, though he remains cagey about his background. Naomi decides to help him, but her motivation derives as much from a love of secrecy as from altruism. She comes up with a plan that involves providing money for Faoud by staging a robbery at her parents’ villa, but inevitably things go startlingly and tragically wrong. A writer of great intelligence and insight, Osborne now follows the nonintersecting paths of Faoud and the two women, for Faoud must flee a crime far greater than robbery. Osborne then explores the deepening tension between Naomi, who struggles to remain in control of a rapidly deteriorating situation, and Sam, who struggles with her continued deference to Naomi. The novel works engagingly on many levels, most basically that of plot but especially that of character and the fascination we have with people who bring out our moral disapproval. Osborne ultimately brings all of his complications involving Faoud, Naomi, and Sam to a logical but troubling conclusion.
A rich, disturbing, and compelling read.