Winter Animals by Ashani Lewis: Shiny, happy people

Cover image for Winter Animals by Ashani LewisI was intrigued by the premise of Ashani Lewis’ debut when I spotted it on Netgalley, putting my hand up, undeterred by the over-used Donna Tartt comparison in the blurb. Opening in Oregon, Winter Animals sees a thirty-six-year-old woman taken up by four young, privileged British people, whose only object in life seems to be skiing and enjoying themselves.

Teenage tourists in other people’s houses. Elen is a postcard again, a souvenir they’d picked up, watching inert as they make themselves at home.

Elen’s husband has walked out, evicting her from their home three months later, leaving her broke and contemplating sleeping in her car while making her way home to her parents in Michigan. The bar in which she’s having her last drink lights up when four attractive twentysomethings walk in, their British accents marking them out. They come and sit with Elen, seducing her with their shiny confidence until she agrees to come with them to their latest squat, an abandoned ski resort above the small town of Bend where Elen has lived for fifteen years. These four follow the snow around the world taking up temporary residence in empty Airbnbs and second homes, following a hedonistic utopian philosophy devised by Luka, their leader. Elen wonders where she fits into this, taking up her customary position as an outsider, observing her companions who she sees as infantilised by their privilege and wealth. She pays for nothing, skis every day, falls a little in love with the beautiful Lyn, listens to George’s joshing, tries to ease Clover’s climate anxiety, knowing that all of this will likely come to an end soon. As secrets leak out, the shine begins to wear off.

George was right though: the group means everything to Luka. While it’s in place, his loyalty is cheerful, twinkly, absolute. As soon as it comes apart, something alarmed and angry takes that loyalty’s place.

Lewis unfolds her story from Elen’s perspective, often perplexed by quite why she’s been picked out to join this group of ski bums whose way of life has been cobbled together by their tacitly acknowledged leader from the writings of a nineteenth-century French philosopher. The narrative can be confusing – deliberately so, I think – the line between dreams and reality occasionally blurred. Elen’s time with the ‘teenagers’ as she thinks of them seems to bring her back to her younger self and a better understanding, a holiday from her life as a housewife from which it’s time for her to sober up. Things take a dark turn after a day spent on the slopes tripping on acid followed by the discovery of a trauma in Luka’s past, but much is left unresolved by the end, some of it frustratingly so. It’s a novel that I found myself absorbed in as I read it, and I admired Lewis’ writing, but I’m not sure how long it will stay with me.

Dialogue Books: London 9780349703299 240 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

8 thoughts on “Winter Animals by Ashani Lewis: Shiny, happy people”

  1. Hmmmm, doesn’t it seem like the more we read the less we attend to blurbs? They might be accurate, they might not, but the decision to read rests more in experience than that brilliant quip? The idea of gradually shifting into another kind of (possibly sinister) narrative sounds interesting here; I like it when we are onside with a character in that way.

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