New Animal by Ella Baxter

Ella Baxter's New Animal is sharp, surprising, luridly funny and fearlessly chaotic

Book Review by Anahit Behrooz | 16 Feb 2022
  • New Animal
Book title: New Animal
Author: Ella Baxter

Amelia Aurelia – funeral home cosmetician and casual hook-up aficionado – is not coping. Her mother is dead, she’s skipped out on the funeral – leaving her family in an emotional and logistical quagmire – and has turned up at her estranged father’s home in Tasmania, seeking solace and obliteration in the local BDSM scene. Sex and death may be strange bedfellows, but in Ella Baxter’s New Animal they are too wrapped up in each other to care.

It's a sticky state of affairs, and one easily primed for tragedy, but New Animal is, if anything, more morbid screwball comedy than grief-stricken drama, fascinated as it is by the absurdity of intimacy and power across both life and death. Baxter’s prose is a heady mix of the bodily and the philosophically deadpan: a handful of wild strawberries eaten by Amelia become her mother, grief rendering the boundaries of her body porous and collapsible. Meanwhile, when a boy from a dating app turns up to take her to a kink club, Amelia’s reply to his inquiries is deliciously impassive: “Human woman, tired, sad, on a date with you, not wholly sure what a sadist is.”

This is writing that is sharp and fearlessly chaotic, grappling with the depths humans go to for mere illusion of control. Luridly funny and always surprising, New Animal takes on the promise of catharsis – and upends it entirely.

Picador, 17 Feb, £14.99