Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals (HarperCollins Canada, $22) is the kind of novel you’ll wish you’d written, and mainly because certain (drunken/sexual/hilarious) events feel very much like they’ve been lifted from the collective debauchery of our youth, when we never paused to wonder whether we were cocking up the rest of our lives.
The novel centres on the friendship of Laura and Tyler, and life in and out of their dumpy Manchester flat, which they share with a hosiery-eating cat called Zuzu. The pair aren’t just BFFs; they’re co-conspirators in a dizzying drunken plot to misspend their waning youth. Overeducated and underemployed, they escape their hum-drum jobs with regular ragers at the pub. We meet the twosome at a crisis point in their dynamic. Laura, now 32, is engaged to Jim, a teetotalling pianist who doesn’t enjoy Tyler’s louche charm.
Unsworth’s heroines are crude gals. They vomit, they use the toilet (No. 2) and they pass wind. They do in public what most women keep behind doors. Basically, they’re animals. It’s an oddly refreshing presentation of womanhood in fiction, which usually excises the baser functions of the human animal in service of maintaining the illusion of femininity.
The novel is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny and pointed in its critique of the cultural fascination with girls gone wild. (As Laura points out, guys gone wild is an everyday reality that barely rates an eyebrow raise.)
Animals, the Manchester writer’s second novel, is decidedly not chick-lit. In fact, it’s very much in line with many of the great English naughty lad novels—more Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis than Bridget Jones.
That literary lineage means for no happy ending and no comforting platitudes for Laura or Tyler. Animals makes it clear that friendship doesn’t conquer all and neither does love—even when you’re a woman.
Told you you’d wish you’d written it.