Fragile Animals

Genevieve Jagger

(404 Ink)

What more is there to be said about the allure of vampires, a subject that must surely have been wrung dry by now? In the hands of Genevieve Jagger, it turns out, quite a lot. This strikingly accomplished debut novel is a fresh, psychologically astute take, narrated by a troubled, possibly neurodivergent, young woman scarred by a strict Catholic upbringing and family trauma who befriends a charismatic older man claiming to be a creature of the night.

With her second book of poetry needing a rewrite before her editor will agree to publish it, 23-year-old Noelle impulsively quits Edinburgh for a break on the Isle of Bute, taking a room in a twee guest house a few miles outside Rothesay run by the chatty, maternal Miss Fraser. There is only one other guest: a middle-aged taxidermist named Moses, who reveals to Noelle in a late-night kitchen chat that he is a vampire. Against her better judgement, “a small bud of interest blooms feeble and urgent in my chest”.

Warily at first, she spends the next week getting to know Moses, while turning over in her mind the unresolved issues and conflicted feelings that have brought her to one of the lowest point in her life. For, as much as she fights against the constraints of her religious indoctrination, Noelle still represses her natural human impulses and lives in fear of a God who is monitoring her every move. She is haunted, too, by the disappearance of her mother from her life, in circumstances that don’t become clear until much later.


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Jagger explores Noelle’s psyche in forensic depth, and with complete conviction. Her portrayal of the self-harming goth whose creative and analytical mind is unable to move her forward, only repeat the same patterns in an ever more chaotic spiral, is insightful and pitch-perfect.

The physical manifestations of her mental state – the self-conscious gait, churning stomach and generally difficult relationship with her innards – are spot-on too. “Dissonant space appears in my body. And there’s nothing that can be done about that.”

Moses is no less vividly realised. Tall, unhealthily sallow, with unruly hair, a “weathered and ugly” face, “an ugly, crooked spine” and the name “Emilia” tattooed on his neck, he’s definitely one to keep an eye on: a loner in his fifties who engages a much younger woman in probing conversations and goes out of his way to create an air of intimacy between them.

The Herald: Fragile AnimalsFragile Animals (Image: free)

There’s definitely a predatory vibe to him. But the better Noelle gets to know Moses, the more apparent it becomes that his urbane charm and sardonic wit isn’t a cover for malign intent but the outward expression of a genuine interest, compassion and concern that his vampirism has somehow left intact.

Before long, she’s trusting him to suspend her over the edge of a lake. If there’s any dread or foreboding in their relationship, it comes not from any imminent danger he might pose, but what Noelle might willingly invite him to do to her.

Both Noelle and Moses emerge as characters of considerable complexity. Even if Moses is enigmatic and ultimately unknowable, the subtle detailing of his portrayal hints at a thoughtful inner life and sad, resigned wisdom.

Fragile Animals is also, it should be said, beautifully written. Jagger has a natural flair for eloquent, flowing yet visceral prose which rarely, if ever, hits a bum note. And it reaches a gripping crescendo as the nature of the betrayal that split Noelle’s life in two is finally addressed and she embraces the darkness as her only means of reaching the light.