Review: New Animal by Ella Baxter

“If anyone ever asks me how I dealt with this grief, I will tell them honestly: by killing the light of everything that reminded me of her.”

Ella Baxter’s striking debut novel “New Animal” is a blazing cocktail of icy honesty and heart-wrenching tenderness, told in starkly beautiful language.

Amelia — a twenty-something cosmetician at her family’s mortuary business — reminded me a lot of Jena from Jessie Tu’s “A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing.” She’s having a lot of sex with a lot of random men, trying to blunt and distract from the trauma of her every day, struggling to find (but not really looking for) further connection.

But when her mother dies suddenly, a flood of unfamiliar emotion overcomes Amelia, and she escapes to Tasmania to stray with her biological father, where the memories of her mother lack the piercing sharpness they possessed closer to home. She inadvertently stumbles into the world of a BDSM club, and a group of people hoping to diminish their own pain through their experiences in a place that demands trust, consent and clear and constant communication.

Elements of “New Animal” are viscerally confronting, one scene in particular — Amelia’s first experience as a “dom” — still reverberating in my brain days later. But for all its braveness and boldness, and the savagely deadpan wit enmeshed in every scene, what stands out most is Baxter’s magisterial insight into the human heart and mind. She has fashioned an intense and unflinching account of a young woman’s journey through grief. And it’s all told in a style distinctly her own.

Category: Fiction
ISBN: 9781760877798
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: March 2021
Pages: 240