Animal by Lisa Taddeo

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publication Date: June 2021

I am currently working my way through watching the second season of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.  It does feel like work as it feels somewhat relentless in the violence and trauma meted out towards nearly all the female characters. At one point during a group therapy session around healing and moving forward, Elizabeth Moss’s character June retaliates from this ideology and asks the question, why should we? Why can’t we be as furious as we feel? This question feels pertinent for me when considering ‘Animal’ Lisa Taddeo’s first novel, a novel that from the very beginning details trauma, male violence, and the repercussions of these on the individual.

Fleeing New York after witnessing a shocking act of violence, the reader is introduced to the character of Joan who escapes to Los Angeles in pursuit of a woman called Alice who potentially can help her work through her past. Even though we perceive events through this first person perspective, I felt I was constantly reviewing my feelings towards the narrator, she admits freely ‘I am depraved.’ Ultimately, I did empathise with Joan despite her ready admittance of her using people to meet her own needs. Despite her defiance, I felt her vulnerability too. From the very opening, I felt even the landscape posed a threat. The stifling heat, isolation and the ever present but hardly ever visible coyotes that lurk and haunt in close proximity where Joan lives pose an uncomfortable presence throughout the text.

As the novel progresses, a feeling of discomfort grows. Taddeo asks us to sit with a woman who has been brutalised and who has been brutal to others. She is not there to make us feel comfortable but rather to make us question how society, a male-dominated society, treats individuals according to gender and how this disparity causes perpetual suffering and pain. We realise that the novel is moving towards a revelation, a climactic moment of horror. There are many moments of horror within the novel ones that are extreme and incredibly upsetting. I have read reviews that say that this borders on sensation and titillation and moves away from what the novelist was trying to achieve. I would argue that this is not the case, but rather again Taddeo is demanding that the reader recognises the level of violence and brutality that women face daily. Joan unapologetically works to look after and save herself, to satisfy her own desires and seek revenge on those, mainly men, who seek to do her wrong. Joan’s fury is explored explosively and heartbreakingly at one point she states, ‘May you not go around the world looking to fill what you fear you lack with the flesh of another human being’ it is a call for rage, a call for empowerment and individuality in a society that seeks to divide and conquer.

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