English Rules, first published in Russian in 2006, is a great romp through the misadventures of a hapless young Russian living with his wife and in-laws in Folkstone, England, where he is desperately trying to fathom the tacit dos and don'ts of English etiquette when his life is turned upside down by a series of catastrophic events.
The opening scene sets the note of the absurd which runs through the book, a genre which has powerful antecedents in soviet literature as does the portrayal of the "little man" manipulated by Kafka-esque conspiracies.
Ostalski's observations on his adopted country – a Russian journalist, the author moved to Britain in the early 90s – are spot on but made with great warmth. On a more serious level, this is also a novel about the emigre/immigrant experience of trying to decipher and fit into a society whose rules appear both impenetrable and unpredictable and as such it also raises questions about identity itself.
But this is above all a skilfully written and very funny novel.
- by Miranda Ingram, former Daily Mail Moscow Correspondent.