The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

The Butchers Hook Life is not easy for Anne Jaccob, the young protagonist (more anti-heroine than heroine) of The Butcher’s Hook. Her mother is an invalid, her father is cold and distant, and she is struggling to warm to her new baby sister, who will never, ever take the place of the beloved little brother who died. The one bright spot in Anne’s life is her secret romance with Fub, the butcher’s apprentice, but even this is threatened when her father announces that he is arranging a marriage for her with the vile Simeon Onions. It seems that Anne is going to have to take matters into her own hands…

The Butcher’s Hook is the debut novel of Janet Ellis, who is probably best known for presenting the BBC’s long-running children’s show Blue Peter in the 1980s. It’s an unusual and imaginative story set in a Georgian London populated with colourful, larger-than-life characters. Many of them feel as though they could have stepped out of the pages of a Charles Dickens novel. There’s Titus Levener, the grotesquely fat butcher, and Dr Edwards, the sinister tutor who gives the young Anne an education she’ll never forget. There’s Angus, the Scottish soldier defeated in the recent Jacobite rising, who wanders the streets of London hungry, ragged and cold. And then, of course, there’s Anne.

From the beginning I was drawn into Anne’s world – the world of a lonely, confused young woman who has difficulty fitting in with the people around her. As the story progresses, Anne decides to take control of her life and shape her own destiny despite the obstacles which have been placed in her way. From this point on, things become very dark and twisted! I don’t want to say too much, but you need to be aware that you’ll be spending a lot of time in the company of a character who is seriously flawed and capable of the most horrifying things.

The Butcher’s Hook is an unsettling and atmospheric novel, with a plot that took me by surprise several times with its unexpected changes of direction. Based on this first effort, I’m sure Janet Ellis can look forward to a successful new career as a writer. To think that I nearly didn’t read it because I’m a vegetarian and found the title off-putting! My only disappointment was that I thought the ending felt slightly unfinished, as if there was more of Anne’s story still to be told; I don’t know whether there will be a sequel, but if not I’ll be interested to see what Janet Ellis writes next.

I had the opportunity to read this book just before Christmas, but have been waiting to post my review here until after the UK release date – which was yesterday. Thanks to Lovereading for the review copy.