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Book review: Animal by Lisa Taddeo

The title of Lisa Taddeo’s book speaks volumes about what lies within.

Animal is a book of trauma and its consequences, played out by Joan, who is introduced to the reader after she has witnessed her lover kill himself in a restaurant where she was dining with another man.

Amazingly, this is not the most startling part of the book in which Joan rages against the sudden and awful death of her parents when she was a child.

The novel begins as Joan drives across America to Los Angeles, where she is looking for a woman with mysterious ties to her past.

Throughout the novel, Joan crashes on through life, acting exactly as she chooses, with little regard for her own safety or that of others. She is driven by her sexuality as a way of asserting some kind of control over her life and others, but it is often used in a way that is damaging and unsettling.

Before picking up Animal, I had read and loved Taddeo’s Three Women. Animal dealt with some of the same issues, of sex, control and suffering. However, it was far more direct, offering up trauma in a way that was almost matter-of-fact.

One anecdote that was skipped over relatively lightly – that of a young boy who was abducted and murdered – left me stunned and a little jaded, wondering whether this blithe recount of tragedy was too much for me.

So much horror can be difficult to digest in one book, and I finished it feeling a little queasy. And perhaps that is the point – that trauma has wide-reaching effects both on the person who has suffered and those they encounter.

I don’t think I would recomend this book to many people, given its challenging subjects and relentless pain.

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