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Book DetailsISBN: 9781760877798
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Book Review: New Animal by Ella Baxter - Reviewed by CloggieA (27 Mar 2021)
3 stars New Animal is the first novel by Australian writer and artist, Ella Baxter. When, on the first pages, the protagonist is filling awkward post-coital moments musing on the sort of funeral make-up she would do on the guy she’s with, the reader knows they are in for a very different read.
A year after her friend threw himself off a cliff, Amelia Aurelia is processing her grief and confusion, or perhaps avoiding it, with multiple casual sexual encounters via a dating app. She loves her job at Aurelia’s Funeral Parlour, is a qualified embalmer and talented at preparing the deceased for viewing.
When her mother dies after a fall down the stairs, it is probably little surprise that Amelia runs away to her birth father’s home in Tasmania, and then, in order to distract herself from the right-or-wrongness of her non-attendance at Josephine’s funeral, goes to a BDSM club with a stranger.
Baxter’s debut novel does illustrate how individuals process grief differently. The blurb is somewhat misleading: the fathers’ “intervention”, which only occurs in the final pages, is bizarre. While there is plenty of laugh-out-loud humour, much of it quite black, Baxter also includes a fair bit of explicit sexual description, there’s a generous use of expletives, and Amelia’s first session at Widow Maker has a definite “ick” factor, so this book will not be for everyone.
As well, readers of a certain vintage may have difficulty relating to Amelia’s reactions and behaviour; she seems almost entirely self-focussed and it is likely that the millennial generation will better identify with her mindset. Much of the descriptive prose is evocative, but the ending is rather vague, unresolved, and heavy on abstract symbolism. A quirky debut novel. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin.
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