Thoughts on Sara Pascoe’s Animal

This book is amazing #bookstagram #amreading #sarapascoe

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I have neglected my blog in the past month. For the usual blog not-posting reasons. Life things, business, general anger and inability to read due to the shit-storm that was the EU referendum… But here we are, now. I finished Animal by Sara Pascoe in the heady days before the UK became un-united, and am just now finding myself able to think about normal things again.

So! Animal is an amazing book. My boyfriend works in a bookshop and he asked me where I’d put it – funny books, memoir, feminism? I said yes, he could put it in any of those. I have a weakness for these Smart Thinking books – I find them interesting, especially the psychological ones. In fact, I’ve been reading this sort of book far more than novels this year. But back to the book: Animal made me see the ways in which we are very much part of the animal world, no matter how much we believe ourselves distant from it. We’re constantly reacting to stimuli; there are reasons why women are made to feel so awful by advertising. We may think that we’re in love / lust because of somebody’s sense of humour or intellect (or whatever…) but, even if we don’t want children, our bodies assume that we do. We pick people based on how well we think they would raise children. We are responding to our hormones, our chemicals.

Pascoe goes into the history of dating and mating and sex and why we do all of these strange things. We are not special, hyper-evolved beings. We are animals. We have a well-developed part of our brain that is bolted on to the side (top?) of our mammal and reptile brains, so we don’t always use it. From my now seemingly nihilistic viewpoint, it explains a lot. Pascoe goes into the reasons why we, for instance, commonly mate off in pairs. We have evolved to have this tendency because human babies need a lot of care:

‘CANCEL THE ORGY! The science books say we lived in social groups but with strongly bonded pairs raising their own children.’

And then there’s the memoir aspect of the book. Pascoe goes into her own sexual history, her background which informed her future relationships and the relationship she has with her body. Pascoe discusses everything honestly; it feels painfully relatable but almost revolutionary. We often avoid talking about such things. She writes:

‘It’s scary how much of my inner monologue is consumed by debating food choices, berating myself for what I’ve recently eaten and promising I’ll do better. […] My weight has stopped me doing things, has kept me from parties and dinners and awards ceremonies because the stress of attempting to look ‘nice’ has beaten me.’

I too have not gone out because my body didn’t look “right”, and I suppose most women have. But we don’t say this. We meekly cut important food-groups from our diets and blame ourselves, punishing ourselves for our transgressions. We at least need to acknowledge this as a serious issue.

And then, because it’s written by a comedian, there were plenty of moments when I was reading Animal when I actually and genuinely laughed out loud. A book like this could be so dry: there are a lot of facts in it. But, conversely, it could have been too much of a piss-take; I’ve read a few books by comedians and, although they can be funny, the comedian sometimes wants to be funny at the cost of everything else, which can undermine what they are saying. But this was a smart compromise.

So, I don’t know where I would put Animal in a bookshop. Pascoe has invented her own scientific-humour-memoir genre and I want to read more of it.