... 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.
Joan’s own voice...lectures the reader on managing men and on appearance and taste. She’s a hybrid of Ottessa Moshfegh’s narrators in Eileen, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, with the former’s retrospective tetchiness and the latter’s snobbish vulnerability. There’s also a touch of Cusk in Joan’s knack for running into quotable strangers. They never fail to set up Joan’s epigrams, and they’re especially obliging in dredging up dark memories. At times the novel reads as if Joan were in a theme park engineered to issue her with psychodynamic therapy. If Disneyland has a mouse costume everywhere you turn, Animal has a pat developmental claim ... I hope Taddeo doesn’t write with anything so ghastly as a 'target audience' in mind, but I am certain her publisher’s marketing department has one and that I am in it. Give me a million books about washed-up glamour queens stewing in their own juices, and I will beg you for a review copy of book number million-and-one. Could it be that the genre makes me feel heard? ... Animal is a certain type of novel. If my description appeals to you, then chances are you’ll enjoy it.