Animals is the story of Laura and Tyler. Laura’s 32, works in a call centre, is an aspiring writer and is engaged to Jim, a concert pianist. Tyler, 29, works in a coffee shop. Both of them like…well, read the opening of the novel and you’ll get the picture:
You know how it is. Saturday afternoon. You wake up and you can’t move.
I blinked and the floaters on my eyeballs shifted to reveal Tyler in her ratty old kimono over in the doorway. ‘Way I see it,’ she said, glass in one hand, lit cigarette in the other, ‘girls are tied to beds for two reasons: sex and exorcisms. So, which was it with you?’
We’d been out. Holy fuck, had we been out. A montage of images spooled through the brainfug. Fizzy wine, flat wine, city streets, cubicles, highly experimental burlesque moves on bar stools…
They like a good time and their good times involve booze, drugs and often (although more on Tyler’s part than Laura’s) sex. Much of the novel is based around Laura and Tyler’s escapades, which are absolutely hilarious; I could quote more, there’s a funny line or incident on practically every page and I cried laughing twice, but part of the joy of reading the novel is coming to those lines fresh.
However, Laura and Tyler’s nights out become something of a problem with Jim who’s given up drinking. Physically absent for large periods of the book because he’s on tour, there are numerous occasions when Laura’s supposed to meet Jim – most often at his place but once in Stockholm – where she promises herself she’ll leave early/not take any drugs/only have a few. Yeah, right. And it’s this tension between the three of them that drives the narrative forward.
But to suggest that’s all the book’s about would be to leave the core of it unacknowledged, a core that considers and makes astute comments about friendship, relationships and those choices that plague women in particular (ugh, society) in their late 20s/early 30s.
Laura and Jim are supposed to be planning their wedding but this creates tension with Tyler who feels that Laura’s deserting their friendship:
‘I’m not ruining your life! There’s more to life than me! And I’m marrying Jim because I love him, I do, and this feels like…’ I couldn’t say ‘adventure’. ‘…progress.’
She smacked her forehead with her hand. ‘Progress?’ What about our hard-earned system? Have you forgotten about that? Isn’t marriage just another example of everything we’ve always fought against, as in the shit people do because they think they should rather than because they want to?’
And then there’s Tyler’s opinion on her younger, wilder than all of them, sister having a baby:
‘You know what the “Baby Club” is? The Baby Club is one of those godawful discos in Leicester Square: starkly lit, tacky and full of tourists. The décor is dated and you can’t get a decent drink, and every time someone walks through the door everyone who’s in there smiles manically with this huge relief because they’re just so glad someone else walked into their shitty club after they paid twenty quid and can’t leave.’
And then there’s Laura’s take on the love we feel for our friends and lovers (repeated several times throughout the book with regards to different people):
I loved her. I did. Sometimes.
The writing in Animals fizzes; it’s fiery, sharp and perceptive. When I wasn’t laughing raucously, I was nodding in agreement. It’s the bastard lovechild of Withnail and I, Bridesmaids and Girls; it’s the novel that covers all the things I was thinking and feeling in my early 30s; it’s the novel that should firmly establish Emma Jane Unsworth as a shining star of British contemporary literature.
Thanks to Canongate for the review copy.