on 9 July 2014
I struggled with the rating- wanted to give it 3.5 stars- 4 stars for the first half + 3 stars for the second half..but 4 it is!
EJU has a unique writing style and an impressive vocabulary. She describes everyday thoughts and things in a such a true and honest way. It's direct yet poetic. I immediately 'got' the two main characters. Some of it is laugh out loud funny, in my opinion. I giggled to myself on the tube over 'HE JUST CAUGHT YOU LOOKING AT HIS BELT BUCKLE'- maybe I'm weird but I can definitely relate to that!
As someone who is attempting to write a book which focuses more on character than plot, and who has an appreciation of such literature, I did find the plot here somewhat lacking. Also, I don't believe every chapter should necessarily be a cliff hanger, but I found the endings to be too abrupt, leaving me cold and not particularly eager to turn the page.
Another little niggle was that although Tyler was a vivid and very believable character, toward the end I found her antics a bit too much, they had wore me out- to the point where my eyes were compelled to roll when she came out with yet another random, off-the-wall statement.
Overall, I enjoyed the first half of the book quite a bit, but sadly due to a lack of plot/variety, not so much the last half of the book.
I'm glad I read it, and I will definitely be reading more EJU in the future because she really is a clever writer, there's just a bit of cleaning up here and there required- IMHO, of course : )
Animals commits the cardinal sin of being boring.
Most people like novels with sympathetic characters for whom you can wish success. Some people like novels with bad characters you can hate and hope bad things happen to. But Laura Joyce, her girlfriend Tyler and her pianist partner Jim are just dull. They do very little apart from drink (except Jim who doesn’t even drink) and although there is the occasional comic moment, mostly it is just alcohol-fuelled scatalogical dialogue that seems designed to shock but never quite succeeds.
And Laura and Tyler are not nearly as bad as they like to think. Laura holds down a job at a call centre; Tyler works at a high street coffee chain. They have done so for many years. Their shared home is broadly spotless except for a particular mess or dirtiness that is the centrepiece of the narrative. They go to the all-night party Manchester scene, snort cocaine and fall asleep in flowerbeds, yet they never really seem to make any enemies, never get in trouble with the police, never struggle to pay the rent. It’s all a bit too sanitised. Maybe you believe in the characters – and for the most part I did – but I just found them very boring.
By way of example – I had a friend once who was an alcoholic. His stories used to involve drinking a lot and doing outrageously funny things. Then the drinking a lot became the punchline in itself. Something happened – and then we all got rat-arsed. Boom tish. And it was so boring, so repetitive. So too is Animals. It just goes on and on without getting anywhere; made all the worse by fractures timelines and flashbacks which destroyed any grip on plot that the reader might have been clinging to.
Eventually – and I mean right at the very end – there is the tiniest of flickers of plot development. This is handily set out under the heading “Six Months Later”, just in case you missed it. Alas, the development is rushed and really pretty small scale. Most of all, it is completely inconsistent with everything we have already read. There is no reason why the characters, who have been pretty unvarying throughout the novel, would suddenly change. It just doesn’t fit at all.
The glowing reviews make all sorts of comparisons – not least with Withnail. These are not good comparisons, and Animals does not belong in the same house as Withnail, let alone on the same shelf.
on 7 May 2014
I read Animals over two days, hardly able to put it down. I was gripped, excited, moved and ultimately blown away by this novel. It's such a unique, brilliant book on so many levels. The subject matter draws the reader in - main character Laura and best friend Tyler are hedonistic literary party girls who are still choosing drink and drugs over settling and suburbia. Reading about their escapades will make anyone who had their own heydays crave a cigarette and a cold glass of white wine in a bar in a city, a night where anything might happen. That's what the writer does so well, sums up that feeling that we've all had, but many have lost - the excitement, the call of "the night" as Unsworth calls it.
Animals doesn't glorify all the drink and drugs - that's what's so brilliant about it. It simply lays it all out, the reasons why, and the reasons why not, the highs and the lows of a certain lifestyle choice, the way we all seem to be trying to decide if there is one way to be, in your thirties and onwards, that's 'right.' It makes you remember that, actually, nobody really has a clue whether they're making the right choices in life or not. So good to read a novel that lays that out, rather than spinning us another rescue fantasy fairytale.
And then there's the writing. Wow. It's just stunning. The language is so poetic, and at the same time, so often downright filthy - there really can't be anything else out there like Animals right now.
Buy it, devour it, and recommend it to your friends. We need more novels like this!
on 24 August 2015
Can't quite make up my mind.....I didn't dislike it....not sure how much I liked it. It was amusing in places but didn't find it laugh out loud funny like some have claimed. Brought back memories to some extent but I thought this was way OTT. By the end of the novel I was a bit sick of repeated drunken stories & although I enjoyed it well enough, I'm glad it didn't go on any longer. Personally I didn't find the relationship with Laura and Jim believeable at all. Nicely written but I sometimes got the impression that she was adding things in just to look clever!
on 20 July 2016
With thanks to the publishers for allowing us a copy of this book in exchange for review. Animals was a bit of a step away from my usual reading comfort zone and it’s been sitting in my to read pile for a while. But having sorted through my pile I found myself drawn to this one and it’s fun cover, a fairly short book it accompanied me on my train journey for a couple of days.
Best friends Tyler and main character Laura are proper party girls, where 1 drink leads to 10 and not remembering how they got home. But Laura is getting married and her finance has sworn off of drink for the sake of his career, Laura is torn between her best mate and her boyfriend and whilst she has every good intention of only having one drink Tyler more often then not has other ideas.
I thought the book would cover more of the relationship between Laura and her boyfriend but it seems that 75% of the book was her and Tyler getting drunk, taking drugs and Tyler getting into mischief. There was an underling plot involving Tyler and the relationship with her dad which definitely could’ve been explored to a greater extent, but I found her character by the end of the book very tiring with her constant need for attention.
It’s a book that seemed to focus more on character then plot, which is great for a quick read but I did often find I wanted more story, more background, more of a moral to the drinking and drug taking and it didn’t quite get there for me. But you can’t fault Emma on her character skills, you very quickly get the two main characters and see what they’re about, especially Laura. At times their antics are very funny, but I did find myself somewhat jaded to them by the end of the book.
Worth a read
on 7 December 2015
Thought is would be a far cry to review this book as the female Withnail and I but it sort of lived up to its expectation. Would have been better if the main woman wasn't so consummed with her relationship, I don't see 'I' having any love interests or worrying about his marital status in Withnail.
on 8 December 2015
Funny, filthy, witty and warm, I loved so much about this story - it's characters, original voice, setting - but, most of all, how it cuts to the heart of why you should never compare your life to another's.
on 14 January 2015
I wanted to like this book, I really did, especially with the Withnail blurb on the cover. However, with comparisons like that, you're setting the bar dangerously high before the reader has even cracked the cover. Whereas Withnail and I somehow manages to entertain while riding on the thinnest of plots, I feel Animals falls short of the mark. A fifth of the way into the story there is still, other than a vague upcoming wedding, no discernible plot in sight, at least none that I could detect. In its place is a solid portion of flashback and back-story, told in a somewhat frantic tone, an `Aren't we decadent!' voice that truly decadent people needn't use.
That said, Emma Jane Unsworth is clearly a talented writer. She can turn a phrase better than most and delivers a continuous slew of wily one-liners. `Did they crop-dust them with poppers during the commercials.' The only problem is, it can be too much of a good thing. The reader needs a break, space to stretch out with the story. A little less cleverness would have gone a long way.
One last thing; starting a novel off with a hangover wake-up is probably not the best of ideas; done a hundred times before, it has long since entered the ugly domain of cliché.
Nevertheless, I'd gladly read Unsworth again in the future. Unlike so many authors these days, she really does know how to write, and she writes well.
on 2 May 2015
I have just reread this book (I can't remember the last time I did that). It's incredibly funny, honest, and so refreshing to read about real dirty, funny women. But's it's much more than that too -- Unsworth's prose is truly beautiful (it depresses me that some people seem to totally miss this in their rush to criticise the book's protagonists/tone). I really think she's one of the best British writers around. This book is a total winner -- buy it for the women in your life. (AND the men (especially the men... ))
Tyler and Laura are best mates, living together in Manchester. By day Laura works in a call centre and occasionally tries to do some work on her novel - about a priest who falls in love with a talking pig - while Tyler works in a coffee bar. By night they rampage through the bars and clubs of Manchester, ingesting huge quantities of drink and drugs and generally having a crazy time. Then Laura - heading towards thirty and wondering what the point of it all is - begins a relationship with Jim, a classical pianist, who happens to be teetotal and ultra-sensible. Jim wants to marry Laura and redeem her and Laura is tempted. But Tyler is determined never to let her go, and hatches a plot to convince Laura that marriage will be a disaster.
I bought this having read a couple of interviews with Unsworth, who I thought sounded interesting. Unfortunately, her book ultimately is not. There are, true, some excellent bits: Unsworth's exploration of Laura's relationship with her father, Laura's father's ideas about religion and spirituality, the hints about Tyler's troubled childhood in the US, Laura's craving for something more meaningful than the Manchester club scene and her memories of childhood. And Unsworth is certainly onto something - particularly in the final stages - about the manipulative nature of some female friendships. But there's a big problem: the bulk of the book describes a series of drunken and druggie misadventures, and alcoholics and heavy debauchees are often (though I'm sure not always) extremely dull people, prone to senseless escapades, an unpleasant lack of hygiene and rambling, often nonsensical conversations. All of which come across strong in this book. While (as the New Statesman review noted) Laura and Tyler's adventures start off quite amusingly, by Page 50 I'd had enough - and with still at least another 150 pages of debauchery to go. The girls' utter lack of ambition and forcefulness, their cynical passivity (apart from in the consuming of booze and drugs) and their selfishness (Tyler more than Laura, it has to be said - I found the scene where she neglects her cat to the point the animal eats some tights out of boredom horrible) made me want to shake both of them. Behaviour that would have been just about understandable in a student or 23-year-old seemed pretty pathetic in a 29-year-old. Also - where did they find the money for all the drugs and drink if they were in dead-end jobs?
The annoying thing was that I felt there was a really good novel lurking in there - if only Unsworth had cut back on the drunkenness and debauchery and concentrated on other aspects of the story such as Tyler's troubled childhood (might have explained why she was so horrible), Laura's relationship with Jim (as Unsworth either knows little about, or didn't want to write about, the classical music world, Jim's vocation as a pianist seemed unbelievable and wasn't made good use of) and her feelings for her family, and what the girls' hopes for the future might be, this could have been an interesting read. Instead, some great paragraphs stood out among long swathes of grungy, somewhat repetitive prose that left me, in the end, feeling rather grimy. Still, if Unsworth could be convinced she doesn't need to shock so much with her next book, I would certainly read it.