‘Butcher’s Perfume’ by Sarah Hall

I’d forgotten the family in this story were former travellers or a family with an indiscernible past, so it was intriguing to rediscover it. The story brims with energy and a latent violence, first shown by the fight between the main character Manda and a couple of school mates, which makes it sound brutal and rough, which it isn’t. The story fizzes in its own particular world, wonderfully evoked by Hall with her use of vocabulary – ‘brobbs’ ‘gannan’ and ‘dobby stones’ – to set scenes in the family home where Manda’s parents have an unashamedly robust and lusty marriage and her brothers are kind of wild. 

Structurally, it’s interesting that literally the first three out of four sections are observations about the family and the narrator, Kathleen’s involvement with them. In the final quarter the story takes off as Kathleen encounters a neglected horse. The family’s rough justice towards the farmer who has inflicted such pain is a swift as the telling. Full frontal and adept. We’re given a chance to see the family before they go into action inflicting their own version of justice, but the story is rich in the telling and generous in its portrayal of those sometimes seen at the margins.

First published in BBC National Short Story Award 2010, Comma Press. Collected in The Beautiful Indifference, Faber, 2013

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