... propulsive, fiercely confident ... To her great credit, Taddeo resists the pressure—rampant these days—to craft a likable, 'relatable' female narrator. In Animal she gleefully does the opposite ... Taddeo can write a killer sentence ... She’s at her best when exploring the murky, sometimes twisted relations between men and women ... If all this sounds far-fetched, it is. Taddeo isn’t a subtle writer. But what she lacks in nuance, she makes up for in bravado, psychological acuity and sly wit. Joan’s voice is so sharp and magnetic that the reader will follow her anywhere—even to the dark and increasingly unbelievable depths her creator sends her ... The world of Animal is relentlessly bleak. If its particulars don’t always make sense, its values at least remain consistent ... Writing a novel is a shell game—an elaborate con in which the author aims to dazzle with what she does well, in hopes of distracting the reader from what she can’t do at all. Taddeo’s prose glitters. She has a gift for aphorism, the observation that astonishes. She is less successful at imagining the shape of a life. As the story unfolds, Joan’s depravity has a numbing effect, and the unremitting degeneracy of the male characters begins to seem didactic. The intention seems less to shine a light on human nature than to cast it in funhouse shapes ... Taddeo is writing with all her stars out, though they shone a little brighter when life itself supplied the plot.
Animal will confirm [Taddeo's] status as a pre-eminent channeller of women’s interior lives ... She is among a new generation of authors coming to prominence — novelists such as Raven Leilani, Leïla Slimani, and Ottessa Moshfegh. Theirs are no-fucks-given, visceral, pared-back narratives that unspool the generational trauma that women have had to hold in and endure for centuries ... Come to it fresh, and savour a cleverly constructed psychological thriller that depends on the accretion of casually tossed in details about Joan’s past and hints about the future ... Joan drives across America with her life in boxes, and here Taddeo displays the deep-dive detail at which she excels, her keen journalist’s eye that seeks 'colour' and can itemise it ... This book is a raging, funny and fierce thriller with a protagonist whose life force, against extraordinary odds — always in the gaze and sometimes the grasp of predatory, abusive men — is a thing of wonder. Taddeo is a folklorist of our performative age. Her fiction employs the same propulsive storytelling we saw in Three Women, itself a feat that owes a lot to the oral tradition.
... alarming ... All the harping on darkness—blood, bone, hate and the rest—combined with a rather awkwardly fancy prose style initially makes Animal feel like a teenager’s 'look at me, don’t look at me' howl, written on a satchel or ring binder where grown-ups will definitely see it. However, as we accompany mad Joan on her journey of reckoning with her past, something more interesting emerges ... Taddeo has a sharp eye for the pretentious coffee places and farmers’ markets of yoga-mad California, and a beautifully painterly way of immersing us in the sunburnt scrub and spiky rough land of Topanga canyon ... although Joan’s story is hard to read and sometimes annoying, it’s about time some writer was brave enough to take the present iteration of man-hating, ball it up with a healthy dose of Freudian theory and splatter it all over the phoney wellness culture that promises women so much and delivers so little. This cross and sexy book smacks of a literary career in its adolescence but Taddeo has the guts and big ideas to become something great.
Animal is a feminist revenge killing tale ... but it also feels reductive to label Animal as such. Yes, there is revenge, there is a reckoning, and there is a killing, but they seem secondary. Unlike other pieces of pop culture and art that revel in the what (the violence, the rage, the revenge), Animal is concerned with the why—it is a novel that is concerned with making us aware of all the reasons the what happens ... It’s easy to say the audience for a book like Animal is other women—women who can see themselves in the sexual politics of the novel: the everyday ogling and harassing, indignities suffered during the most banal of activities, like going to a farmer’s market. But maybe the audience is—or should be—men ... Taddeo is fed up, and she is telling us to listen, pay attention, that our actions, our looks, our words mean things, have consequences. Animal is a book less about the enacting of female rage and revenge and more about showing us all the terror and microaggressions that build to a tipping point—from sexual assault to mansplaining; from instantaneous, life-changing trauma to slowly being boiled alive in lukewarm water.
... not an easy or, at first, a coherent novel ... For all the harrowing scenes in Animal — the grisly miscarriages and the bloody childbirth, to name a few — the most shocking might be the weird and disturbing scene in which Joan conceives her daughter ... The lesson here is that women do not have to be bound by the desires of men. That women can and should dictate their own stories on their own terms.
The idea is boldly handled, and the writing is often exceptionally good. The book is packed with elegant observations ... Many scenes have a hallucinatory wildness, and Taddeo is remarkably sharp on the politics of attraction ... Taddeo also has a penchant for strange images...These can be distracting and even confusing, but whatever the style is, it’s never boring ... Unfortunately, the novel goes fatally awry in a couple of significant ways. First, the character of Joan is radically one-dimensional. She’s a victim of sexual trauma who has no interests apart from sex and trauma. She never reads a book, watches TV, listens to music, or does anything practical. She has no memories of anything but trauma and sex. There are various scenes at her past jobs, but we never find out what she did there – or rather, all she seems to have done there was have unwanted sex. Even her parents are insistently sexualised ... The second problem is that the plot has a careening outlandishness that is often incoherent and always at odds with its serious content. Every choice the characters make is perverse, and much of the dialogue consists of unmotivated confessional speeches ... This excess is probably intended as a kind of Los Angeles gothic, but Taddeo simply doesn’t have enough control to make it work, and it ultimately borders on parody. The narration also wanders erratically; Joan can’t get through a traumatic scene without being distracted by memories of other traumatic events, until the hopping from misery to atrocity just becomes confusing ... Surprisingly often, when I give a book a negative review, it’s with a painful sense of the book it could have been, if it had had one more substantial rewrite. I felt this more with Animal than I have with almost any other book. It’s not a bad book, not really; it’s a great book that swallowed a ton of terrible ideas it couldn’t digest. Even in this state, it has more intelligence than many novels I would wholeheartedly recommend. It’s ambitious and abrasive and unsparing. It has its own aesthetic and its own worldview. But as it stands, it’s not a great novel; it’s a great missed opportunity.
The plot didn’t seem to go anywhere for more than half of the book even though there are numerous shocking and violent events ... The book promises an explosive woman who is ready to take back everything that has been stolen from her, right every wrong, and not let another man get away with using and abusing her ever again. But the execution fell short especially because of the drawn-out mystery around Joan’s past, but also because her rage never seems quite palpable. It seems very dormant even when she exerts this revenge in a scene that is definitely the highpoint of the book. The book’s strengths are the representation of abuse and the discussion regarding how normalised it tends to be in our society along with the masterful craft of complicated female characters ... this is by no means superior to Taddeo’s Three Women where she tackled similar themes and did it much more naturally than here. In Animal, the approach feels way clumsier and more inauthentic ... an intriguing, at times bizarre, story about female rage, violence, and revenge. While it failed to hit the mark, for me at least, the writing was really beautiful and haunting which definitely attest to Taddeo’s talent and potential.
... a novel of female revenge that promises to be just as sensational as [Taddeo's] debut ... If anger and rage simmered quietly under the sentences of Three Women, Animal allows them to boil over. There is something incredibly compelling about Taddeo’s writing style, and I found myself unable to resist its flow. There are so many brilliant one-liners in this book; Taddeo is particularly skilled in distilling a whole gamut of historical iniquities against women into one pithy sentence. Animal is full of emotion and you’ll find it infuriating, disgusting, outrageous, depressing and triumphant. This is the kind of blockbusting novel that requires immediate discussion, debate and dissection, so make sure you have someone ready to debrief with when you’re through. If there’s one book you need to form an opinion on this year, this is it.
... shares its predecessor’s intensity, an unflinching candour that chimed with readers who saw their private hurts and humiliations reflected in these true stories ... Everyone loves a remorseless antiheroine, and Taddeo gives us one to remember, but there are only so many times you can listen to someone tell you that they’re depraved. The book is dense with foreshadowing and jaded, vampy generalisations ... Taddeo’s metaphors are visceral, haunting, but occasionally don’t land ... Although the ending offers a kind of haunting redemption, it seems contrived, and Joan’s aspirations for her daughter are dispiritingly superficial ... The voice feels self-conscious, lacking the humour of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, arguably the standout antiheroine narrative of the last five years. Yet nonetheless, Animal is a psychologically astute tale of tooth-and-nail survival that considers the meaning of female strength in the modern world.
Oh, how I want to love Lisa Taddeo’s work ... The schlock horror intensifies in the final chapters, as if Taddeo, nervous that her ending won’t live up to its own hype (it doesn’t), has decided to pile on the gore as a distraction tactic. The suspicion grew on me that this book has been rushed out without due care from its author or editors ... Despite the promise of the opening, the novel finally has nothing nuanced to say about men and women.
... a ruthlessly exact study of the damage done to women—and that women sometimes do to themselves—in the search for love and belonging ... the result is relentless but never wearing, not preachment but real lived pain, and akin to standing in a hurricane with razor blades flying. There’s blood at the end—and a glimmer of self-affirmation ... Offering a gutsily refocused look at the male–female power exchange, Taddeo brings Joan to awareness and some agency, challenging women to reconsider assumptions and desires framed by men even as she viscerally registers all the reasons for women’s anger. A brilliant if uncomfortable provocation, sometimes messily intense but willing to take risks; likely to stir talk—and argument.
Her uber-confessional storytelling leaves readers certain, though, that all truths will emerge eventually, and Taddeo creates impressive suspense as they do. A provocative novel of sex, love, and rage for readers drawn to psychologically rich, feminist literary fiction.
...underwhelming ... Taddeo misses an opportunity for a more critical exploration of female rage, relying instead on the shock value of the third act’s violent scenes. Recent novels such as A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers have treated similar themes with more imagination and depth.
... a propulsive, erotic, emotional thriller ... Taddeo balances the sex, violence, and melodrama of her plot with insightful character development. Joan is almost impossible to look away from on every page ... If the story goes off the rails in the final chapters, the burning questions driving it are satisfyingly answered. As full of sensuality, amorality, and drama as its riveting narrator.