Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, translated by Frank Wynne

Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, translated by Frank Wynne

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Animalia retraces the history of a modest peasant family through the twentieth century as they develop their small plot of land into an intensive pig farm. In an environment dominated by the omnipresence of animals, five generations endure the cataclysm of war, economic disasters, and the emergence of a brutal industrialism reflecting an ancestral tendency to violence. Only the enchanted realm of childhood – that of Éléonore, the matriarch, and that of Jérôme, the last in the lineage – and the innate freedom of the animals offer any respite from the visible barbarity of humanity. Written in shifting prose that reflects the passage of time, Animalia is a powerful novel about man’s desire to conquer nature and the transmission of violence from one generation to the next.

The TLS Books of the Year 2019

‘If EM Cioran, the great Romanian philosopher of the bleak, had been a novelist, Animalia is the kind of novel he would have produced [and] it is likely to be hailed as a modern classic. ... Jean-Baptiste Del Amo has published four novels in his native France. Animalia is the first to appear in English, in a translation by Frank Wynne, whose unenviable task it has been to take Del Amo’s original, Règne Animal, and to capture and convey something of its full throttle, bold, dark profundity. He has triumphantly succeeded: Animalia in English has a truly savage quality, all blood and stench and despair. ... Animalia is an important reminder that literature’s task is not necessarily to uplift, but to help us to attain a true understanding of our predicament.’
— Ian Sansom, Guardian

‘This is an extraordinary book. A dark saga related in sprawling sentences, made denser still by obscure and difficult vocabulary, it is everything I usually hate in a novel. Instead, I was spellbound. ... The first half, especially, is full of those dense sprawling sentences, gnarly with obscure words (eclose, muliebral, commensal, ataraxic). This gives the prose an eerie, otherworldly texture. The strangeness of the words, used with precision and scientific exactitude (“lucifugous insects emerge from the mound of earth”), slows your reading down, immersing you more in the scene on the page, and those scenes are so vividly imagined and conveyed — the woman miscarrying in the pigsty, the drunken priest and his attendants slogging up to the farm at night in thunderous rain, the old mother’s body being drawn from the well…’
 David Mills, The Sunday Times

‘Jean-Baptiste Del Amo’s writing positively reeks of pathos, and of rage. Yet for all the acrid pungency of its prose, Animalia pretty much tells an everyday story of country folk. Amid the hills, vales and oak woods of Gers in south-western France, the same family dwells over four generations in a gloomy farmhouse. The plot pivots on two periods: the years before and during the Great War, and the early 1980s. ... The writing ... never loses its electric crackle of sumptuousness and savagery. Ever-resourceful, agile and ingenious, Wynne’s translation proves equal to every twist. Del Amo’s prose throws a bucket of slurry from some “unspeakable mire” over the conventions of pastoral fiction. Yet he has plentiful passages of heart-lifting loveliness, as when an August harvest prompts Marcel to feel nature as “an indissoluble great whole”. From first to last, “the cruelty of men” emits its rancid stench. Thankfully, Del Amo lets us sniff the sweeter scents of tenderness and beauty too.’
— Boyd Tonkin, Financial Times 

‘Del Amo’s multigenerational portrait of a hardscrabble family of pig farmers in Gascony is ... a lyrical powerhouse, a sophisticated portrait of a fucked-up feedback loop of familial cruelty and disappointment, and a story that, for all its brutality, also reveals something more. Yes, many of Del Amo’s descriptions will turn you vegetarian for a time, and there is wickedness enough for this book to stand alongside Cormac McCarthy’s meanest, but the brief moments when these beleaguered characters show their humanity and kindness—delivering a calf, bathing a mother—left me breathless.’
 Emily Nemens, Paris Review Staff Picks

‘Throughout, the novel is resolutely and unceasingly foul in its descriptions of sex, death, shit and all manner of bodily processes. Nothing is sentimentalised or sanitised. Del Amo asks his readers to recognise the multiple cruelties that human beings are capable of, and the detail is at some moments extraordinarily difficult to read. At the same time there is an almost celebratory lyricism to the complex biological language in which nature’s processes are described. These descriptions conjure up an oozing sense of time as slow, repetitive and generative ... Animalia is a disturbing and profound book. Del Amo builds such a realistic, richly textured world that by the novel’s close, despite its horrors, it feels a real wrench to leave the landscape.’
— Katie Lewin, Literary Review

‘Gruelling but magisterial, Animalia spans the decades from Eléonore’s childhood to her dotage, telling the tale of this “hostile, implacable land”, and how five generations survive on a single plot of rural soil. Del Amo’s novel is a massive sensory experience; no detail is too small to let ferment.’
— Cal Revely-Calder, The Telegraph

‘The florid prose has an incantatory power well suited to the festering enmity, inhumanity, and majestic squalor on display. This uncompromising vision will leave readers breathless, thrilled, and exhausted.’
 Publishers Weekly, starred review

‘[B]rutally gorgeous . . . Monstrosity abounds in this rancid, shit-smeared book, yet it is rendered with beautiful, almost Miltonian descriptions of the fallen world—a world that fell a long time ago.’
— Hunter Braithwaite, Guernica

‘[Del Amo's] prose is stunning from the first page on; no smell or sound or texture is omitted. ... [H]e presents a blunt, unfiltered truth, evoking the tedious existence of people with little hope – each day they are pitted against the earth, the animals, and one another for survival. ... Anyone thinking about the art of description would do well to read Animalia to see how a master creates an indelible world.’
—Thomas Filbin, The Arts Fuse

Animalia is stupendously good. This is a novel of epic scope and equally epic ambition, and it is exhilarating and frightening to read. Every page blazes with incandescent prose. After reading Animalia it might be a while before I can return to reading a contemporary novel, I suspect everything will seem tepid and timid in comparison. Del Amo has thrown down a gauntlet: be bold, be daring, be rigorous, be a poet. A stunning book.’
— Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap

Animalia is a book about sex and violence, but it has unusual sobriety, and a story with a deep pull. The way it senses the natural world, in seed, vein, hair, grain, pore, bud, fluid, is like nothing I’ve read.’
— Daisy Hildyard, author of The Second Body

‘Jean-Baptiste Del Amo’s talent is impressive, his writing bountiful and explicit, sinuous and sharp, sensual and surgical.’
— Bernard Pivot, Le Journal du Dimanche

‘Reminiscent of The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner.’
— Patrick Grainville, Le Figaro

‘Brutal, violent, raw, harrowing. Here, the smell of manure, blood, piss and viscera permeates every chapter; madness, sex, alcohol and death ooze out of every page.’
— Thierry Gandillat, Les Echos

‘A tour de force.’
— Eric Naulleau, Le Point

‘An epic book on family and the savagery of humanity. An astonishing novel.’
— Baptiste Liger, L’Express

‘Radical and brutal to the point of unease.’
— Michel Abescat, Télérama

‘Mr. Del Amo’s intensely visual, sensory writing brings to life the physicality of a factory farm.’
— Marina Bolotnikova, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

‘A horrifying tour de force about the business of farming, killing and eating animals.’
 Prisma Magazine

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