Lead Review

  • Book: Animal
  • Location: New York City (NYC)
  • Author: Lisa Taddeo

Review Author: Tina Hartas



I read Three Women by the same author and found the writing powerful and impressive. And once again in this – her first actual novel – I am overall blown away by the writing, but the subject proved to be a bit of a mixed bag for me. However, it is the only book that has had me going to the kitchen cupboard to see if toothpicks do, indeed, have a particular smell and frankly, that is not something you do everyday! The author describes Joan (the protagonist) entering a room that is described as smelling of toothpicks (Joan also likes the smell of chlorine, so she is one of a kind, to be honest!). I do wonder how on earth anyone came to identify the scent of a toothpick in the first place, but there we are.

Actually, do you want to know if toothpicks do have a smell? Yes, they do. Mine have a hint of spice and wood. Will this be the start of a #toothpicksniffing trend, I wonder? However, to be serious, and here is the rub for me, many of the similes the author uses in both this novel and in Three Women simply don’t resonate with me (it is something I also noted in my review of Three Women too). I can appreciate the rich and heady prose but sometimes I am left thinking that choosing to compare a room’s smell with the odour of toothpicks is so off beat that it just falls flat and doesn’t add anything, apart from oddness or, that the author is trying too hard to be out there.

The opening depicts a man killing himself in front of Joan. He has been her lover, her boss and he has been overly needy of her. She decamps to the West Coast and takes up residence in Topanga Canyon above Los Angeles.

We know early on that she is an unusual woman, she sees the world as two dimensional, how it and the people in it can serve her purposes, and she announces early on that she sees herself as depraved. And that she certainly is in many ways. She has encounters and shares thoughts that are pretty disturbing. It’s all visceral, shocking and yes, depraved.

Joan instigates a search to find Alice because she is actually her half sister. Theirs has been a hard and abusive childhood and perhaps some understanding can be gleaned from those early days. Of course Freud is an arch proponent of childhood experience informing adult behaviour, so thus there is at least some explanation as to why Joan has such a warped and tormented personality.

What the author does so well is create a sense of setting, the heat and aridity of the canyon and environs come through loud and clear, and she pays attention to detail both human and environmental. She really uses the surroundings to make her character pop and crackle. Essentially, however, I got fed up with Joan’s behaviour. I would take a break from reading the book (actually, I was listening to it on audiobook) and then ponder the darkness of humanity. I decided I could do without her and her provocative, depraved life. The advertising strapline is “I am depraved. I hope you like me“. You can guess my answer.

The cover is really eye catching (no pun intended).

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