The Premise: Sara Pascoe is a comedian; if you’re in the UK and like me, are subjected to panel shows by your taste-impaired partner, you’ve probably been forced to watch Eight out of Ten Cats or that one about lying and been relieved to see that she’s on because she is, unlike most of the participants, an actual human and very funny Animal: An Autobiography of a Female Body is an exploration of femininity, sexuality, relationships and why it is wrong to have to pay a tax on tampons. Sara Pascoe draws on her own experiences of disastrous relationships and deeply felt embarrassments to supplement the science bits.
Thoughts: my main thought on Animal is “I completely love this book.” Sara Pascoe is hilarious and astute, voicing many of the concerns and thoughts that I have (and any sensible human has) about sexism, attitudes towards women and the historical roots of these. Additionally, I want to be her best friend. I feel strongly that the universe wants this to happen. We are nearly the same age; we are both from Essex; we both got rejected by Cambridge university; like me, she spends too much time thinking about Sylvia Plath: what more does any friendship need? With a book like this, it’s important to be able to relate to the voice of the person imparting their wisdom and experience, and Pascoe’s voice is by turns delightfully irreverent and deeply heartfelt. The book is also very, very interesting, encompassing history, politics, anthropology and biology in its drive towards giving a complete picture of what it is to be a woman.
I’d compare Animal to Aziz Anzari’s Modern Romance in its approach to the subject at hand; Pascoe, like Anzari, has researched her topic in masses of detail and presents it in a digestible and accessible way, often relating complex or disturbing details in a way that remains readable (for example, detailed explanations of female genitalia, complete with diagrams). Both books also successfully juggle serious information with humour; I laughed a lot while reading Animal, mainly at the points when Pascoe related a cringeworthy story from her romantic history and I, in turn, related to it a bit too much. She’s very open about relationships, mental health and, notably, the abortion she had as a teenager, and I am full of admiration towards her for putting all of these things down on paper for the world to read. Aside from the comparison to Modern Romance, I’d describe Animal as a Girl Up for grown-ups (you can read my thoughts on that book by Laura Bates here if you like); in some senses, it’s a call to arms, with Pascoe including an appendix of charities and organisations the reader might wish to become involved with.
Animal is divided into three main sections: Love, Body and Consent. It’s impossible not to relate to all three, whilst at the same time feeling outraged by some of the injustices Pascoe discusses. For example, although we might all know that it wasn’t that long ago that the law didn’t recognise rape within marriage, it’s really pretty shocking that it was 1991 before UK courts changed the law. Pascoe also includes a discussion of the Ched Evans case and I related to her feelings about this and what it says more broadly about attitudes towards rape and towards women in our supposedly civilised and enlightened society. When Pascoe talks about starting fights about these issues in pubs, I nodded vigorously and wondered whether this is why I don’t get invited to the pub any more.
In Conclusion: I have probably made this book sound far more serious and bossy than it is. It is these things, and justifiably so, but it’s also warm and hilarious and something I now want to buy for every woman I know so we can start a revolution. When Pascoe describes her body insecurities, her dodgy relationships, her rage at the world, I feel like she completely gets it; she talks a huge amount of sense alongside I huge amount of humour. How can a book manage to be so vital and profound, yet also so bloody hilarious? I don’t know. But Animal is.