I don’t know if Emma Jane Unsworth has made it onto any Granta or equivalent list of best young British writers, but on the strength of Animals, she should: one is tempted to say that she brims with promise, when the truth is she has already arrived.
Animals is a superb novel, described by Caitlin Moran as ‘Withnail with girls’, and, once you trawl through the excesses – the sex, the drugs, the booze – it is hard to disagree, but it would be a pity to limit the book to a mere full on filthy story of friendship.
It is much, much more and is beautifully written.
Laura and Tyler are best friends in their mid to late twenties who co-habit together in a Manchester flat with a cat, philosophising and leading each other astray in local pubs and further afield (hilarious sketches in London and Edinburgh).
Naturally, change doesn’t stand still, and with biological clocks ticking in the background, Tyler is on the cusp of losing Laura to the connubial prison of a life with the one dimensional classical pianist Jim, now teetotal, who is itching for both babies and marriage, though impossible to say which will come first.
Laura, an aspiring novelist who adores Yeats, is easily led by the mercurial Tyler, whom she didn’t realise drank until she met her sober, a superbly drawn character by Unsworth: imagine a younger version of Patsi from Absolutely Fabulous, with the genes of Jim Morrison and Lord Byron.
She memorably disengages from a date with Tyler to attend a poetry lecture, by explaining how she got “black out drunk last night. I feel like that if I move, I’ll vomit electricity.”
Tyler also gets the best one liners: ‘The sound of the suburbs: they sell it as peace but it is actually death, closing in.” I noticed Animals is being plugged as a book for women, but I enjoyed it hugely because of Unsworth’s wit and excoriating style. There’s not a single line in Animals that’s not plugged into a socket, and switched on.
An although Animals is, apparently, aimed at Girls, Bridemaids and Visits from the Good Squad, for me Laura and Tyler, at the height of their friendship and excesses, brought back memories of Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder in the roaring 1920’s. One of the best novels of 2014.