Amelia Aurelia is a late 20s cosmetic mortician on the Australian coast who, after her mother’s unexpected death, numbs the pain by having meaningless sex with a parade of strangers. “Most nights I find myself trying to combine with someone else to become this two-headed thing with flailing limbs, chomping teeth and tangled hair,” she explains. “This new animal. I am medicated by another body.”
Her unconventional attempts to grieve are at the center of New Animal, a debut novel by Ella Baxter.
Finding the idea of attending the funeral unfathomable, Amelia chooses to skip out on the service and fly to Tasmania to spend time with her biological (and basically estranged) father. There, she falls into the local BDSM scene, first as a sub, and then at the local kink club as a domme. Her foray into this new world is chaotic and wry, and she’ll be the first to admit that she’s “not wholly sure what a sadist is.”
Though the plot moves at a swift pace, and the BDSM arc is thoroughly entertaining, its Amelia’s meditations on grief and loss—and the anxiety that surrounds them—that make this novel sing. And it’s fascinating to watch Amelia go through the motions while attempting to reconcile what it means to be alive when everyone around you is dead. “The deceased are beyond beautiful, but only because they are so empty of worry,” she posits.
For fans of Sally Rooney’s brand of millennial malaise and Six Feet Under’s tragicomic take on the mortuary business, New Animal is at turns graphic, raw and tender—a wholly human exploration of the Venn diagram of emotion.