Sarah Hall, ‘Butcher’s Perfume’ (2010)

A nicely observed chronicle of the friendship between two Cumbrian girls: Kathleen, the narrator; and Manda, the tough daughter of the notorious Slessor family I love the way that Hall captures details in this story, such as the almost osmosis-like fashion in which friendships can develop at school. In one lesson, the two girls scribble on each other’s exercise books, then Manda ‘borrows’ a pen from Kathleen, all without a word being spoken. And then:

Something was granted to us afterwards. We were past simply knowing the name of the other and what form we were in. We were allowed to say Hiya in passing, in front of other friends, at the gates of the school, or in Castletown going down to the chippy or the arcade.

The Slessors themselves are portrayed as a family apart from the rest of the community, both physically (with their big house built on the profits of industry, a house  that ‘had no business being built in Cumbria’) and socially (they have the reputation of coming from wilder, harder stock than most — ‘the ones that lit the beacons when other folk hid in cellars and down wells’); an incident involving a horse at the end of the story shows how mysterious the family, and the codes by which they operate, remain to Kathleen.

There’s also a strong sense of place in ‘Butcher’s Perfume’; the Cumbria portrayed here is rather like the Slessors in its harshness. All in all, Hall’s is a very atmospheric piece.

2 Comments

  1. The family name is ‘Slessor’ not ‘Slossor.’

  2. David Hebblethwaite

    18th April 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Thanks, Jenny — amended.

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