The Butcher’s Hook – Janet Ellis
London, summer 1763. At nineteen, Anne Jaccob is awakened to the possibility of joy when she meets Fub, the butcher's apprentice, and begins to imagine a life of passion with him.
The only daughter of well-to-do parents, Anne lives a sheltered life. Her home is a miserable place. Though her family want for nothing, her father is uncaring, her mother is ailing, and the baby brother who taught her to love is dead. Unfortunately her parents have already chosen a more suitable husband for her than Fub. But Anne is a determined young woman, with an idiosyncratic moral compass. In the matter of pursuing her own happiness, she shows no fear or hesitation. Even if it means getting a little blood on her hands.
Review: Brace yourselves.
I read a romance book.
And I liked it.
Of course, it’s a twisted, disturbing romance with a main character who murders her romantic rivals, but that’s a small detail. I’m still counting this as a romance.
Anne Jaccob is a nineteen-year-old woman living in London in the mid-1700s. She’s an upper-class lady who’s used to getting whatever she wants. Her parents have money, and Anne has servants to take care of her every whim. She’s very sheltered. Her parents rarely let her leave the house. She’s uneducated and has had very little contact with people outside her home. When the butcher’s boy, Fub, shows up at Anne’s door to deliver the family’s meat order, Anne immediately becomes infatuated with Fub’s strong body and the blood on his hands. Anne wants to marry Fub. And she’ll murder anyone who tries to stop her.
This book has mixed reviews on Goodreads, and I understand why. It’s gory and often crude. There’s sexual abuse and violent human and animal deaths. If you can’t handle reading about bodily fluids, you should avoid this book. All the fluids are present and accounted for. Anne is not a likeable character. She’s sex-obsessed and has no empathy for other humans. For Anne, people are just obstacles to overcome. She either kills them or manipulates them until they give her what she wants.
I like this book because it’s unusual. I’ve read and watched a lot of stuff about male serial killers, but you don’t often hear about women committing a string of brutal murders. To me, Anne’s behavior makes a twisted kind of sense. She’s spent most of her life in isolation, and she’s used to being handed whatever she asks for. She doesn’t know how to behave appropriately in public. When she meets Fub, she doesn’t understand why she can’t marry him. She’s never been told “no” before.
Anne’s murder spree is also a reaction to the oppression that women faced in 1700s England. Since Anne is a girl and can’t take over her father’s business, her father doesn’t see a reason to educate her. Her parents mostly ignore her. They give all their attention to her younger brother. Anne’s only purpose in life is to marry a wealthy, upper-class gentleman. Her parents have a man picked out for her, but Anne isn’t attracted to him. She wants Fub.
“Every girl hopes to find love and situation neatly bundled. It is hardly ever so.” – The Butcher’s Hook
Even as a child, Anne’s father uses her to impress his business clients. Anne’s only friend is the daughter of a rich businessman. Anne’s father encourages her to play nicely with the girl, but Anne doesn’t know how to be nice. She tries to impress her friend by showing her a rotting mouse corpse and then making her a necklace out of spit and hair.
Yeah. Anne is a strange character. She’s brilliantly messed-up. I think I’ll remember her for a long time.
“To my mind, we carry all that we need to survive, indeed to live well, in our heads and our hearts from birth. We must decide our own paths accordingly and individually. There is precious little other instruction available.” – The Butcher’s Hook
I have two complaints about this novel. First, the typos. Why are there such obvious typos in a finished book? Whenever I came across a glaring error, it pulled me out of the story.
Next, the book has a saggy middle. Anne spends the middle of the novel meeting Fub in secret, having sex with him, and plotting murder. I got slightly impatient with it. I understand that Anne loves sex and only cares about Fub because he has a nice body, but I wanted to get to the murders.
Is literary historical horror fiction a genre? The Butcher’s Hook has pretty much everything I like in a story. A vivid setting, good writing, deeply flawed characters, and a few murders. I need to find more books like this.
TL;DR: Do you like historical fiction? Do you like horror? Do you have a strong stomach? If you answered “yes” to all those questions, read this book. It’s delightfully screwed-up.