New Animal (Ella Baxter, A&U)
Amelia is numb. Ever since a heartbreaking event a year ago, unable to let go of the tragedy, she finds herself stuck in place. Struggling to find connection, she absorbs herself in her job as a cosmetician at her family’s mortuary and in meaningless sex with strangers. When heartbreak befalls Amelia’s close-knit family, the unexpected surge of emotion jolts her out of her reverie and she’s overwhelmed by an urge to run away. Fleeing to Tasmania, Amelia reconnects with her estranged father and discovers kinship in a struggling BDSM club with a cast of dynamic characters. There, Amelia finds that it is other people who can tether us to the world. Australian artist and writer Ella Baxter’s debut novel uses BDSM and kink to explore and articulate emotional pain and anguish, but at just 240 pages perhaps needs more time to fully address these complex themes. Instead, New Animal is at its most compelling when the nuances of familial relationships are brought to life, particularly between mother and daughter, and the two men who are both father figures to Amelia. Here, Baxter details the pain of attempted connection particularly eloquently. New Animal is a rendering of a complex moment in time—a portrait of a young woman at the precipice of great personal change and growth—and is moving in its portrayal.
Georgia Brough is a bookseller, critic and writer based in Melbourne.