Life isn’t easy. Even when it doesn’t appear to be that hard. Life is what Animals, the new novel from Emma Jane Unsworth deals with, with clarity, and comically. That hazy space between teen years and adulthood, settling for and settling down, entertainment and recklessness, freedom and responsibility, and all the trappings and traumas involved within.
Living in Manchester, best friends Laura and Tyler exist in a continual cycle of hedonism, hangovers, parties and comedowns, but one thing that seem to be a constant is their unrelenting friendship. As that unwavering bond start to be tested when Laura seeks long term commitment with her partner Jim, a concert pianist, and recent teetollar, the novel explore the complexity and endurance of female friendships. Navigating life is harder than navigating the city streets in which they party, and the two girls slowly start to realise that stimulants alone will not get them through life.
But with convention and stability is personality and enjoyment really lost? Drunken exploits and wild nights out are fun to read about, but the partying never stops in this novel, and sometimes it would be nice to take a break, and the refusal to move away from relentless hedonism can make for a draining read.
Unsworth is clearly no chick lit writer, and as well as being far more than an ode to partygoing, Animals is packed with literary allusions and clever affirmations. Some of the sentences are more sobering than any of the moments experienced by the characters, and contain a strength that the individuals themselves should have, but is never fully explored.
The prose is enjoyable to read, fiery and pacy, but the plot a little lacking. When putting down the book I felt, well, nothing. Reading should not leave you with a shrug of the shoulders. But perhaps the slightly unsatisfying ending and lack of direction is deliberate. As in real life, there are no answers, and the haze continues, even as we try to find our way.