A ripe and pungent novel of Georgian London, The Butcher's Hook throbs with the heat of summer and the seething discontent of
19-year-old Anne Jaccob, on the cusp of the intense emotion of a love affair as heady as it is inappropriate. From a well-off family, Anne is mourning the loss of a beloved younger brother, an event that continues to shadow her days. A new baby sister in the house does little to address the gaping wound of his death. Anne’s devotion
is a great hole waiting to be filled, such prolonged grief an unnatural burden to one so young. Still tied to the cycle of birth and death common to her gender in that era, Anne’s mother is overwhelmed with her marital obligation to procreate--often bedridden, whatever happiness once shared with her spouse long ago forsaken. Discouraged
and unhappy with the birth of another female child, Mr. Jaccob dominates the household with his demands and bad temper. In such a cauldron of discontent, it is hardly surprising that nature sparks an attraction between educated, nubile Anne and the virile, albeit poor butcher’s apprentice often delivering orders to the Jaccobs’ kitchen door.
Shot through with excitement at the feelings that accompany her interests in the inappropriate attraction, Anne walks fearlessly into this unknown territory.
She follows instincts that fly in the face of the social mores of her stations in life, anxious to experience the new sensations that accompany their encounters. The young man, Frederick Warners
(or “Fubs” as he is called), realizes the futility of this romance, though he is willing to dally with a girl so clearly consumed with him. For her part, Anne engages in a fantasy built upon an impossible future, certain she has seduced
her lover into agreeing with her plans for the future. Reality is far outmatched
by her desire to have her way in this most important experience. Anne’s emotions
are volatile, reactions extreme, even when forced to keep her own counsel in the
face of her father’s bad humor. Pursuing the promise of the forbidden and heady
with newfound sexual power, Anne is oblivious to the danger of discovery as she
frolics with her beau on secret excursions.
The latent fires of discontent that seethe in Anne’s troubled soul are stoked by the restrictions of family expectations, shackled by birth to a life she cannot abide, suddenly faced with a potential marriage to a man she despises on sight. The death of her brother and an unfortunate brush with the world’s uglier lessons have prematurely allowed Anne to categorize life’s lessons and find them wanting. Desperate for a different outcome, one she alone can define, Anne resists the demands of a distant father with no respect for female opinion: “the world is a pierced screen through which I have been watched by hundreds of pairs of eyes.” Like an insect under glass, Anne is trapped in the confining framework of her era, a female of certain social stature.
Fed by the force of her rage and boundless sexual curiosity, her rebellion runs deep, whether in response to the hierarchy of family or her instinctive urges to break free, to choose her own future. Rich with excess and filled with unbridled lust, the idea of freedom is dizzying, dangerous. Anne Jaccobs tests the true boundaries of her existence, sometimes soaring, only to be beset by yet another obstacle, gaining one goal only to meet another challenge. As foolish dreams fall away and the road grows narrower, she finds no one a match in a novel that is brutal, shocking and honest, a paean to impulse regardless of consequence. A warrior out of time, Anne howls at the restraints meant to bind her to home and heart. Her quest for freedom becomes instead a ruthless pursuit, the collision of physical desire and romantic fantasy yielding carnage and waste, a landscape rendered barren, if heady, as audacious as it is innovative.