New Animal by Ella Baxter

‘Death always comes too soon, like a bus leaving minutes earlier than the timetable said it would.’

I have very mixed feelings about this novel, about Amelia Aurelia’s journey through death and grief with the aid of sex. I felt uncomfortable at times, like a voyeur in someone else’s nightmare. Meet Amelia Aurelia: a cosmetician at her family’s mortuary business. She is good at her job but detached from her emotions. Amelia is using sex as a proxy for affection, physical connection without emotional attachment. And things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Amelia runs away to her biological father in Tasmania, after something happens to her mother. Overwhelmed by emotion, looking to try to control her feelings, Amelia tries to take refuge in sex again. A BDSM club may provide Amelia with some answers, but you will need to read through some graphic scenes first.

I struggled with aspects of this story, wondering just how low Amelia would need to sink before finding her own place. I could relate to the numbness caused by overwhelming grief and could understand some of Amelia’s actions. I felt sorry for Amelia but found some of her actions utterly distasteful. But this, perhaps, is the point. If we care for a person, then to what extent do we accept or understand the actions sometimes taken in the pain of grief?

‘You’re looking in the wrong place if you are trying to escape from something.’

I finished this debut novel by Ms Baxter made uncomfortable by some of the images and by my own reaction to them. While I admire the writing (which has made me think), I am struggling to see any humour in Amelia’s situation. And yet … I find myself admiring her courage. Hmm.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith