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Saturday, May 1, 2021

'New Animal' by Ella Baxter


From the BLURB: 

A stunning, heartbreakingly funny debut novel from a brilliant new literary voice. Sex, death, grief, running away…only one of these makes Amelia feel like a new animal.

It's not easy getting close to people. Amelia's meeting a lot of men but once she gets the sex she wants from them, that's it for her; she can't connect further. A terrible thing happened to Daniel last year and it's stuck inside Amelia ever since, making her stuck too.

Maybe being a cosmetician at her family's mortuary business isn't the best job for a young woman. It's not helping her social life. She loves her job, but she's not great at much else. Especially emotion.

And then something happens to her mum and suddenly Amelia's got too many feelings and the only thing that makes any sense to her is running away.

It takes the intervention of her two fathers and some hilariously wrong encounters with other broken people in a struggling Tasmanian BDSM club to help her accept the truth she has been hiding from. And in a final, cataclysmic scene, we learn along with Amelia that you need to feel another person's weight before you can feel your own.

Deadpan, wise and heartbreakingly funny, New Animal is a stunning debut.


Okay. Full-disclosure; I would *not* have read this book were it not for the recommendation of Jaclyn Crupi at the Hill of Content Bookshop absolutely ~raving~ about it. I trust Jaclyn, she hasn't led me astray yet.

And yet - and yet; I looked at this cover and that blurb ("... a struggling Tasmanian BDSM club" HMMMMMMMMMM) and thought; What am I getting myself into?! Surely this is just an Australian Sally Rooney (complete with baffling BDSM segue) attempt, a somewhat hodge-podge New Literary.

Well, well, well.

I was wrong. I judged a book by its cover (and an admittedly terrible blurb) and were it not for word-of-mouth, I'd have missed out on one of the most refreshing and eclectic reads I've come across in years. A book that absolutely terrified me for the author's sheer authenticity and audacity of voice.

'New Animal' is about grief and loneliness, self-absorption and absolution. We find ourselves with Amelia, a brittle but brilliant protagonist on the worst day of her life; when the sudden loss of her mother seems to send her catapulting even further into the wilderness of her loneliness, and compulsions for fleeting connections. Around her is a Tasmania like I've never read before, a character unto its own strange self - amidst a cast of characters who are so wildly wonderful, I absolutely loved holding them close for the span of a sparse 240-pages.

What is this like?! Who does Ella Baxter remind me of? Sally Rooney comparisons will abound and that's okay if it brings people in. But I actually think the fact of a family mortuary business heralds a wonderful connection to the writing of Alan Ball and 'Six Feet Under'. It's not even the purely cosmetic connection of death-business; it's more for the beauty and absurdity that Ball and Baxter seem brilliantly able to unearth in life itself. Grotesque grief, carnal normal and pitch-perfect deadpan delivery.

I'll also say that Baxter's book would be for anyone who loves Caitlin Doughty and her non-fiction books, but especially her YouTube channel "Ask a Mortician".

I absolutely, wholeheartedly loved this book. I gorged myself on it and then wanted to go off and read absolutely everything Ella Baxter has ever put into the universe ... And the fact that it's just *this* - this one triumphant and intimidating debut novel - elicits both excitement and frustration. This is someone who writes in a fever, without fear or favour. And I'm just in awe.

Read it read it read it.
Forget the blurb and the cover.
It's a wild ride but it's worth it.


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