‘Mrs Fox’ by Sarah Hall

This story, which went on to win the National Short Story Prize, is, like Daisy Johnson’s, a tale of metamorphosis. The short story form seems particularly suited to these – drawing tight boundaries around the boundary-less; building walls around that which can’t be walled in. Hall’s story, when first read, delivers a genuine, galvanising shock: it’s the tale of a married couple, living in comfortable suburbia, for whom all is easy, and comfortable, and well, until the moment when the wife turns into a fox. The story focuses on sex, in the first half, pre-transmutation: the husband and wife love one another and enjoy one another. But the fox whom the wife becomes isn’t a metaphor for sex: she’s purely, practically, entirely animal, leaving scat on the floor, musk on doorways, preferring her meat served up live.
The story is told through the husband’s eyes: it becomes clear, after the transformation occurs, that we’ve never known the woman; she’s as inscrutable in her human form as she is in her animal one. And what’s fascinating about the tale, the true strangeness at the heart of it, is not so much the transformation as the man’s reaction to it: his shock, of course, but then his acceptance, and finally his longing, his sense of loss. The fox has cubs, and the man knows them to be his, and he loves them, and their mother. He vows to himself that he’ll protect them, and realises that he cannot; that he has no place in their story. This is a story that obliges us to stay on its surface: try to dig deeper, to find sense or significance, and you find quickly that there’s no give; we simply have to accept what we’re shown. “He has given up looking for meaning,” Hall says of the husband, towards the end. “Why, is a useless question, an unknowable object. It is what it is, in other words. But what it is, is rich, strange, provoking and beautiful.

Originally published in Madame Zero, Faber, 2017

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