Lawrence Osborne Doesn’t Care If You Like His Characters In ‘Beautiful Animals’

Posted by Ari Shapiro

Beautiful Animals


Lawrence Osborne has lived in half a dozen countries all over the world. He’s set his previous books in Morocco, Cambodia and France.

His latest novel, Beautiful Animals, is a sun-drenched summer novel with a shadow of death hanging over it. It follows a young, wealthy woman named Naomi, vacationing on the idyllic Greek island of Hydra.

“I haven’t written about Europe for a very long time. …” Osborne says. “It’s a sort of a homecoming for me, in a way. These landscapes I know from my childhood. … Memories came up from deeper places, which I hadn’t expected.”

The extraordinary thing about certain parts of Greece, the author says, is that some locations haven’t changed very much in 3,000 years. The novel, which centers around a man washed ashore, includes many references to the epic Greek poem the Odyssey.

“There is something haunting to me in the idea that this story could recur in the same landscape,” Osborne says.


Interview Highlights

On Naomi discovering a Syrian refugee hiding out on one of Hydra’s remote beaches

I didn’t want to have some sort of political program with having a Syrian refugee … but this is something which is happening in the eastern Mediterranean, so I thought it was perhaps an opportune moment to explore this phenomenon.

On whether he felt pressure to have Faoud, the refugee, represent all migrants

There is pressure to do that, and think that’s a pressure that has to be resisted. In a way, I thought the most subversive thing was to make him normal.

On Naomi having selfish motives for wanting to help Faoud

I think that’s just human nature. That’s not to say that such people don’t have other altruistic motives — of course they do; humans beings are complex. But there’s a certain amount of grandstanding as well. … I certainly live in a part of the world now [in Bangkok] where there are lots of NGOs. … They do a lot of good and they also do much less good than they think.

On Naomi’s motives

At the beginning I thought: What if this character was out to rip off her parents and using the refugee as a kind of pawn in doing that? And that was my original … dark premise. But then I thought, no, a person might have mixed motives. They might have that at the back of their minds, but not at the forefront of their minds.

That’s how human beings work. There might be guilt, atonement, white guilt, all kinds of things that are going on in the mind of someone like that. I wanted a complex character. I didn’t want a person who was just doing something evil all the time or good all the time. The two things are intertwined at any moment.

On Naomi not being particularly likable

She wasn’t supposed to be likable. I’ve got everything against likable characters. Likable characters are usually completely forgettable and we don’t really care. I think we love villains … precisely because they show us these disturbing complexities that I don’t think nice characters do.

On the book weaving in themes from Homer’s Odyssey

I think humans are migratory animals. The Odyssey is a great poem to refugee-dom. … Odysseus is not entirely a refugee … he’s somebody who’s blown off course. The entire book is an exploration of that theme. … I reread it every year. … That’s not as surprising as it sounds because it’s a rip-roaring book.

Jessica Deahl and Jolie Myers produced and edited the audio of this interview. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

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