The debut novel from American journalist Lisa Taddeo is cut from the same cloth as her first book, Three Women (2019), a timely, fly-off-the-shelf non-fiction work about female desire that veered into novelistic territory. Animal trails Joan, who describes herself as ‘depraved’, as she makes tracks from New York to Topanga Canyon just outside LA, fleeing the place where her older lover shot himself. As her dubious past races to catch up with her, Joan hunts down her last remaining relative.
Animal is drenched in sexual violence – or ‘small rapes’, as her character terms them – unfolding in ways that defy expectations. Taddeo deliberately recycles gendered tropes while also stretching them until they wear paper-thin. Yet the novel is also intensely gendered in a way that is not always productive.