My Beautiful England explores what life is truly like for an immigrant in the UK, deftly interconnecting the stories of three very different women, all searching for a new identity in a deprived Northern town.
When the local language school advertises English lessons, the three women are thrown together, united in their desire to interact with others. In the process they develop a unique bond as they try to identify what it really means to be “foreign”.
My Beautiful England highlights the often overlooked human stories behind the bigger picture of immigration, offering a charming, emotionally resonant and ultimately hopeful exploration of friendships across cultures.
Set in Burnley, Lancashire in 2005, My Beautiful England by Michelle Flatley is the story of three women. Three very different women with one thing in common. They are all immigrants, newly arrived in England. They each have their individual problems and issues but are bound together by their wish to find happiness in 'beautiful' England. They meet at the Language Centre, where they are determined to overcome their difficulties with the English language and pass the certificate to become 'English'.
Su is a 44-year-old widow from Thailand. Her beloved husband died in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, she has become a 'Thai Bride' and is now married to Bobby. Sammy is 18, fresh from Pakistan and living with the husband that her family found for her. Lenka is Polish, the victim of domestic violence and mother to Anna.
Michelle Flatley writes with confidence, it is difficult to believe that this is her debut novel, she has really got to the heart of each of these women, and allows each of her characters to develop slowly and beautifully. Despite the title, Flatley certainly does not present England, or the English as beautiful. Hard hitting and at times a little painful, the ignorance, prejudices and sometimes hate of the home-grown characters is not hidden away.
The isolation and sense of loneliness that Su, Sammy and Lenka feel at the beginning of the book is stark, and their developing friendship is beautiful to follow. These three women start out frightened yet hopeful and as time passes and they learn a little more each day about their new homeland, they discover together, grow together and at times, cry together. This story does not gloss over any issues, it contains violence and situations that are emotionally demanding, but it is honest and truthful, and most of all, it is wonderfully written.
This is a stunning debut from Michelle Flatley, and another success from Cutting Edge Press who consistently deliver new, exciting and innovative fiction. My Beautiful England was published on 4 July 2013 and is available in paperback or eBook.
My thanks to Saffeya, publicist at Cutting Edge Press who sent my copy for review.
Michelle Flatley teaches English as a foreign language in the North of England, where she lives with her husband and children. She was inspired by her students to write My Beautiful England, her first novel.