Jean-Baptiste Del Amo

Translated by Frank Wynne

Winner of the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2020
Published 20 March 2019, French paperback with flaps, 416 pages

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Co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union

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

Animalia is never what you expect it to be … Del Amo has Flaubert’s flair for performance … His prose leaps out at the reader, gleaming with perfection.’
— Ankita Chakraborty, New York Times Book Review

‘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

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

‘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

‘Powerful … This is not a novel that says just try to recycle a bit more: it is a book that confronts a reader with a stark moral reckoning of the costs of eating meat. There are characters too, but the main character, here, troubled and chased through these pages, is the farm. Fans of Édouard Louis will find a thrilling fellow-traveler here.’
— John Freeman, Lit Hub

Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, born in 1981, is one of France’s most exciting and ambitious young writers. He is the author of Pornographia, Le sel, and Une éducation libertine, which won the Goncourt First Novel Prize. His fourth novel, Animalia, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in Frank Wynne’s translation in 2019, was a TLS Book of the Year 2019 and won the 2020 Republic of Consciousness Prize. The Son of Man, first published by Gallimard in 2021, is his second novel to be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Frank Wynne is a literary translator. He has translated works by Francophone authors including Michel Houellebecq, Patrick Modiano, Pierre Lemaitre, Ahmadou Kourouma and Virginie Despentes. Having spent almost a decade living in Latin America he began translating from Spanish in 2010, with authors including Tómas Eloy Martínez, Javier Cercas and Almudena Grandes. His work has earned various awards, including the IMPAC Prize (2002), the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (2005), the Scott Moncrieff Prize (2008, 2016) and the Premio Valle Inclán (2012, 2014).