As a fan of historical fiction I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of The Butcher’s Hook, the debut novel from Janet Ellis. Early reviews promised a historical novel like no other and as I got lost within its pages I met a surprising heroine, a protagonist not like any other I had encountered before…
‘This is my nineteenth summer, but I have known only thirteen happy years to this date.’
From the opening chapter it is clear to see that life has been difficult for Anna Jaccob. At nineteen years old she has had a sheltered life and lives what seems to be a relatively miserable existence. Her relationship with her family is a fraught one – her father seems uncaring and she is also distant from her ailing mother. With the arrival of her baby sister, Anna can only reflect on the loss of her younger brother who died during infancy. With his death, Anna lost the one person she could love and care for and his absence leaves her depressed and simmering with resentment. However, a new acquaintance appears that brings the possibility of happiness for our troubled heroine. Fub, the butcher’s apprentice arrives, and Anna becomes infatuated with him.
‘…if our journey were a thousand miles long, I swear I’d have the energy for it.’
In Anna Jaccob, Ellis has created a fascinating, feisty character whose voice is certainly different from many heroines I have encountered in the past. And as the novel progresses, so does the darker side of Anna’s personality. Her attraction to Fub grows and develops into something of an obsession. Under the guise of ‘learning about household management’ Anna visits Fub at the butchers shop and rushes to meet him when he arrives on her doorstep. As our lonely protagonist ventures out in search of happiness we begin to get a glimpse into the darker side of Georgian London. Here, the reader gets a vivid sense of all the sights and smells of eighteenth century London and its dark, violent underbelly. I found it to be very atmospheric and the scenes in the butchers shop in particular provide a grisly backdrop for this dark tale. As her well-meaning parents choose a suitable older man to be her husband, Anna’s determination to get what she wants grows. The question here is how far would she be willing to go to secure it?
‘But in my vision, I skip towards him like a child and I am not that child now and have not been for some time.’
The Butcher’s Hook is a dark tale of love and obsession and sexual desire plays a key role throughout. There are uncomfortable memories from her childhood which may have influenced Anna’s attitude towards men and sexual relationships. As her pursuit of Fub intensifies, so do her desires. Anna is a woman who knows what she wants and sets out to get it, whatever the cost. She may not be likeable at times but Anna Jaccob is a remarkable character – a determined, bold, dangerous young woman. Throughout the novel there are twists, turns and surprises and it was difficult to predict where the story was heading, leading to a gripping conclusion.
‘If my feet were as hard as my heart is to my family, I would not struggle with the ground beneath them at all.’
I enjoyed reading The Butcher’s Hook; it is a dark, compelling tale of one unforgettable woman and her quest for love and happiness. It is a story filled with surprises, one that stayed with me long after the final page. It is an impressive debut from Janet Ellis, and I hope to read more of her writing in the future!
The Butcher’s Hook is to be published on 25th February 2016 by Two Roads, an imprint of John Murray Press. Many thank to John Murray Press for providing a copy for review.