What’s Butcher’s Perfume all about?:
From Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Sarah Hall comes a collection of unique and disturbing short fiction hailed as a sensation by UK reviewers. The first story was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story award in 2010 and involves a teenage girl who makes friends with Manda, of the notorious Slessor family, whose ancestors were gypsies but have now risen in stature to rule the small town in Cumbria, close to the Scottish border.
What did I think?:
Teenager Manda Slessor is reminiscent of the girl we used to know at school, the terrifying bully, that always seemed to have a gaggle of hanger-ons and admirers and seemed to get away with murder. Her family have risen in rank in the town, through the father Geordie racing horses for a living, and consistently winning the most sought after trophies in this sport. He is described by the author as “gristle right through to the bone,” and lives each day like he was “next in line for the throne.” Her brothers are also well known, more for their womanising and drinking which earns them both fear and respect.
Our narrator is a teenage girl who develops a friendship with Manda, and it is through her eyes we see the fiesty family, and learn about their characters and relationships. The most interesting of these is the relationship between the mother and father which seems to be fiery, passionate, and steadfastly loyal. Our narrator sees Vivian as the real driving force of the family, and the glue that keeps them together, despite the fights and arguments viewed from the outside. When our narrator comes upon a tortured horse, we see the family for what they really are and how they have developed their own code of honour.
This is the first of Sarah Hall’s works that I have come across, and I really enjoyed the gritty realism of her writing. She paints the Cumbrian landscape with such beauty and finesse that the reader can easily picture it and feel part of the story. I also enjoyed how parts of the Northern dialect danced across the pages, giving a real sense of authenticity. The characterisation was superb, even though I didn’t understand how our narrator could want anything to do with Manda and her family! And the ending (which I won’t spoil) left me intrigued and wanting more, but was a perfect finale to a unique and fascinating short story.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: The Infamous Bengal Ming – Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner