Book Review: Animal by Lisa Taddeo

This week sees the long anticipated publication of Animal by Lisa Taddeo, by Bloomsbury. It follows the success of her 2019 release Three Women; a work of nonfiction that detailed and examined the sexual and emotional lives of three women living in the USA. Three Women was a book filled with insight, hard truths and untapped emotion.

In many ways Animal has many of the same qualities. The biting intelligence and sense of raw perspective is present throughout this novel, as is the unguarded examination of a women’s sexual and emotional choices. But nothing you have read before will quite prepare you for meeting Joan.

The novel opens in New York City, and the suicide of a lover. It is bloody, brutal and public. One lover shoots himself in front of Joan and her other lover. So the scene is set.

Both Joan and the story move painfully and at pace, trying to escape the horrors of the immediate and distant past. Final destination: California. And while Joan is running away from the past, she is also running towards it. Heading to meet the shadowy Alice.

Here among the dust, the heat and crucially the circling coyotes, Joan starts anew. But life it seems is finally catching up with her. From the outset we are aware that Joan’s life is unorthodox, unstable and filled with trauma. Her parents loom large in her life. Both died when she was young and the manner of her death stalks her lived experience. It is never far from the decisions she makes.

Joan’s life is marked by her relationships. Her sexual relationships with men, in which she seeks both comfort and revenge, and which ultimately leave her hollow. Her relationships with women are complex and often filled with regret. All roads seem to lead back to her parents. It’s a truth that could seem clinched. But it never does. It feels honest, brutal and ultimately real.

Joan is our narrator, our guide and she leads us over some pretty bleak terrain. She is often hard to trust, hard to like and at times abandoning yourself to her damaged hands can feel terrifying. The scent of blood lingers on Joan, growing stronger as the story unfolds. And like the coyotes, the past is moving in.

This is a novel where the boundaries are blurred. It’s is a landscape filled with sharp edges and sudden drops. You aren’t meant to to feel comfortable here. You are meant to feel alive, you are meant to be in your guard.

It is a novel that is alive with the effects of trauma, it bubbles and boils with pain and the ways we deal with disturbing and life altering events. Sex in this both is complex and ever present. Sometimes a security blanket, some times a weapon and more often than not a punishment.

Animal is unforgettable. It is raw, it is dark and it is not for the faint hearted. I wanted to devour this novel, but the story itself had other ideas. It is a tale too rich, too spicy to be rushed. You need to take it in steady gulps and let each one digest.

Rachel x

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