A challenging read for Bury Readers’ Group

Not every book is going to be loved by all members of a Readers’ Group; consensus isn’t required to make for a great meeting with lively discussion. I was unable to attend the Bury group’s meeting in February but, thanks to the following update from another one of our number, I believe I missed a bit of a corker!

18946007._UY475_SS475_Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth.

Well, you missed a good group session today! The feeling around the circle was mostly anger that such a book had seen the light of a publisher. Two people had not read beyond chapter one. Naomi said, ‘It was not worth the paper it was written on,’ and that she had never hated a book this much. So passions ran high – not a bad thing for a group like ours.

A couple of people found some redeeming qualities in Animals, but no-one went so far as to say they like or enjoyed it. I imagine you felt the same. My own review is below.

I found it hard to retain a will to live when I began reading this book, and wondered how the two central characters, two drink-and-drug-fuelled self-destructive women of about 30, did so. Vacuous and boring, the author seemed to somehow believe them special and original. Well, this sort of behaviour may have seemed original in the sixties; now it’s just sad and I read on, mostly for my reading group, but also because I hoped it might offer some insight into why the pair were squandering their education, hell-bent on ruining anything good that came their way. It didn’t, though it did warm up a bit by about halfway. However, it felt as though the author was trying much too hard to shock, with constant references to toilets, puking and other unedifyng details. Coming 60 years after Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, it just felt pointlessly sordid and – well, I’ve already said it – terminally unoriginal.

If you are interested in squalor and wasted lives, I’d suggest you watch Withnail and I, a cult film depicting these negatives with endearing humour. I’m not against books that show the seamier side of life or that have unlikable protagonists, but they need to have something to say or some entertainment value, otherwise it’s about as scintillating as gazing at a pool of vomit. There were odd moments of humour in Animals, but far too few to overcome a lack-lustre plot, one dimensional characters (especially the unbelievably long-suffering fiancé, Jim) and a predictable ending.

I have not read Unsworth’s earlier work, which won the Betty Trask Award for first novels. Perhaps the glory went to her head. On the basis of Animals, I won’t bother trying.


I did receive another email from another member of the group who missed the meeting and she loved the book! Please don’t be put off borrowing a copy and seeing how the book works for you. Please feel free to share your comments with us using the box below.

Nic (Reader Development Team)


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