Stories that simmer with rebellion

Naomi Booth conveys the joy and horror of life with rare and fierce intimacy
November 3, 2022
Animals at Night
Naomi Booth
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The first story in this debut collection from novelist and academic Naomi Booth is set in a world where reality collides with horror, fantasy and sepia-toned nostalgia. In “Strangers”, Lizzie must single-handedly transport her mother’s body on “one last road trip” visiting old friends and family. As Lizzie attempts to navigate her own and others’ reactions to this unusual request from her late mother, she is quietly aware of the need for speed: “The body is only still for a short time before it erupts into new forms of life… She looks like something different entirely. Something new: an elderly stillborn.”

Linguistic gems like this are peppered throughout Booth’s tales—from “a single bloodied claw” stuck to a glue trap in “Clean Work” to a recently released parrot in “Lovebirds”, which becomes “a shuttlecock of malice and colour above us in the sky”.

The stories simmer with rebellion, rage and empathy. In “Forever Chemicals”, the horror of climate destruction is pitched alongside an unexpected reunion with an old flame. In “Tell Me What You Like”, a recently separated woman basks in new-found freedom, while lamenting “this nothingness wrought of years and years of hard work at togetherness”. 

The title story encapsulates much of Booth’s style. Two sets of new parents holidaying together navigate the fresh gulfs created by their shift in status; here the “bright violence of new life” is contrasted with the horrific suffering of a hare on a country road. From jellyfish to rats, cats on tarmac and illegal dogs, animals are at the forefront of these folk-drenched, visceral stories. All of life is here in its joy and horror, both among humans and within the natural world, presented with a rare and fierce intimacy.