AnimalsEmma Jane Unsworth’s second novel starts as it means to go on: Laura wakes up after a big night out, bangle and tights caught around her friend (housemate, landlord) Tyler’s bed, in need of something for her hangover. Tyler is twenty-nine, Laura a few years older; they became friends nine years ago, they still live in Manchester, and this is pretty much how they mean to go on, too. Well, maybe: Laura is shortly to marry Jim, a concert pianist who’s much more strait-laced – could this fracture the friendship that has defined Laura’s adult life?

The experience of reading Animals is quite a headrush: Laura’s first-person narration is snappy but dense, drily self-aware but not removed. The reader is drawn into Laura’s world, with the Technicolor intensity of her friendship with Tyler, but also with a melancholy awareness that the sense of boundless possibility that emerged in the wake of university has now faded. Perhaps one thing that drew Laura to Jim is that he rekindled that sense of possibility:

You could be anything. You could be perfect (unlikely, but the freedom of having the whole rainbow of potential flaws in the running is not to be underestimated). He doesn’t know yet about your limited geographical knowledge; that you don’t read the papers every day; that you sometimes hide instead of answering the door (and the phone). You are yet to drink white wine and turn into a complete fucking lunatic over absolutely nothing. You are yet to, yet to, yet to.

(Canongate pb, 2015, p. 48)

There you have the rush of Unsworth’s language, which never allows Laura’s life to settle into clear certainty: is she marrying Jim because she truly loves him, or because it’s the thing she ‘should’ do? There’s a similar question to be asked about her and Tyler; the journey to reach the answers is a kaleidoscope of neat observations and the flood of experiencing life.