Review: The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis

James Walton

A dark, compelling and unapologetically feminist book, this is former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis's first novel, and James Walton is pleased to report it a surprising success. 

The Butcher's Hook

You'd be forgiven for expecting Ellis's first book to be the normal lightweight celebrity-novel fare: a breezy portrait of life on a children’s TV programme, perhaps.

In fact, it’s a highly accomplished piece of work, set in Georgian London and told in the compelling and entirely convincing voice of a 19-year-old woman.

When the book begins, Anne Jaccob is still grieving for her little brother who died two years before. But she’s also feeling increasingly suffocated by the gloomy atmosphere at home—and outraged by her father’s plans to marry her off to a ghastly middle-aged business contact.

Much more to her liking is the local butcher boy…

For a while the result looks as if it’ll be a straightforward, if high-class, historical novel, with an appealing but never remotely sentimentalised heroine.

About two-thirds of the way, though, it suddenly becomes something far wilder. In fact, this transition is probably a bit too sudden—and the final third, while certainly exciting, probably a bit too action-packed.

Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that Janet Ellis is an author of genuine talent.

 

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