5 March 2018

The Butcher's Hook / Janet Ellis

Told in the first person, so we are privy to our heroine's thoughts and feelings, The Butcher's Hook is a profoundly disturbing novel, a warped coming-of-age story. You see, nineteen-year-old Anne Jaccob is a singularly determined young woman.

Alas, things haven't gone well in her affluent family home since the death of her beloved little brother. Her parents have grown apart, and even the birth of a new daughter after multiple miscarriages cannot console her gloomy father. 

Anne had an isolated childhood. As was not uncommon in the late 18th century, she did have a tutor for some years, but this arrangement ended rather abruptly... She is bright but gauche, with a certain unawareness — or is it a disregard? — for social niceties. She more than makes up for this defect with her strong will, thirst for freedom, and passionate nature.

What promised to be an uneventful life takes an unexpected turn when Anne suddenly develops an obsession with Fub, the young man who delivers meat to the house. At last, some excitement!

Perhaps out of boredom, Anne has always taken childish delight in lying, anticipating with glee the trouble this will stir. Well, trouble is certainly in the air after the introduction of Mr Onions, the simpering, creepy gentleman her father intends her to marry, which seriously interferes with her projects. Ever resourceful, and never a princess in need of rescuing, Anne takes matters into her own hands.

There is one major element that irritates me about this novel: all of the characters speak using the same language register. There are no linguistic disparities between characters who stand on opposite sides of the social scale or originate from different countries; the one exception is a Scottish man's pronounciation of "Anne," which is alluded to in passing. How credible is it that Fub, an illiterate young man from the countryside, speaks in the same way as Anne, who is from a well-to-do family and received private education for some years? As a translator, I am especially sensitive to linguistic subtleties, so it really grates when an author somehow fails to take social, economical, geographical and other factors into account when working on dialogue.

Be warned: this book abounds in vivid descriptions of sights and smells, and includes scenes of butchering (NOT VEGAN FRIENDLY!!!) as well as, um, lively sexual content.

I borrowed this book from my library network through ILL.

Rating: ***

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