R95. The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis

Year Published: 2016
Pages: 349

First Sentence: When my mother lay down to birth that last baby, she was so tired of everything that I thought I could have sold her shoes; surely she'd not get up and need them anymore.

The Butcher's Hook is a book that wouldn't've ended up on my radar if not for "Booktube," which I feel like I've never written about here but has been a big source of book recommendations for me over the past few years. Normally a semi-literary debut novel by an author from the UK (Janet Ellis) wouldn't have made it onto my library hold list the way this one did.

Anne Jaccob is 19 years old in London in the summer of 1763, when she meets Fub, the butcher's boy. Her mother has been plagued by miscarriage after stillbirth after miscarriage, and has just given birth to a healthy baby girl. Anne resents the baby as an interloper, especially after having lost her adored toddler brother to a fever three years before. The Jaccobs are relatively well to do but Anne's world is small. She interacts with her parents and the servants and rarely a friend of her father's. So when she lays eyes on Fub for the first time, it's love at first sight. The feeling is mutual, and Anne is soon pursuing Fub single-mindedly—finding pretexts to go to the butcher shop, arranging clandestine meetings, and so on. Then, her father introduces her to the man named Onions who he intends her to marry. Anne refuses to accept this, and takes matters into her own hands.

I'd hoped that I would be able to write about this book as a romnov but as with Sweet Days of Discipline, I just can't make that fit.

The Butcher's Hook is a fun read, but I'm not sure I'd go much further than that with my praise. I don't know much about the Georgian period of English history, and I didn't get any sense of the era from the book. That's obviously because Anne is so sheltered—she has no sense of local events, even socially. She's just stuck in her family home with no stimulation other than the occasional book. I should also say that I liked the book's dark sense of humour. The best joke is the name Onions... but it's a really good joke. 

Anne is a fun protagonist, too. She's part Merricat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle and part the narrator from "The Yellow Wallpaper," and if you've read either of those you'll know whether you'll like her or not. Fub is amusing in his own way. The two of them barely know each other and Anne is a first person narrator so we have to read between the lines. He's clearly a bit of a dick but doesn't deserve the mayhem that is visited upon him in the book.

The Butcher's Hook almost—almost—makes me wish I'd read Pamela, mainly because I think Ellis is channeling Samuel Richardson here (based on the very little that I know about that book, published in 1740, concerning a servant girl who resists her employer's advances but then gets to marry him). But I've heard Pamela is terrible, so read this role reversal of it instead.

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