Beneath one trunk there is an opening, a gash between stones and earth. Her den. … She cocks her head, as if giving him licence to speak. But no, he must not think this way. Nothing of the past is left, except the shadow on his mind. … There are four, they stumble towards their mother. … As she feeds them her eyes blink closed, sensually, then she stares at him.
Privy to this no man could be ready.
Reviewing can also be the opposite of absorption. Sarah Hall’s Madame Zero, though, knocked me right out of my critical pulpit. In fact it winded me: it took me a week or so to frame any thoughts at all. All the stories were great but I envied ‘Evie’ especially. It’s about sex and threesome, ostensibly “She always invited the other back in. He wanted to watch from the chair; he watched her being. touched, grasped, opened, watched her responding. He began to understand: jealously was only desire; it was wanting to do what he could see was being done to his wife.” But in fact it is about marriage, and death and illness and madness. I read it over and over: I hope to do as well one day.
First published in The Sunday Times, July 2013 and collected in Madame Zero (Faber, 2017)
That’s why we were all afraid of her. That’s why her name went before her — Manda Slessor — and if you heard it said in a room you felt ill at ease, you felt things shift out of the way for its coming into the conversation. Everyone knew she was hard. It was the first thing ever they knew about her. It was her pedigree.
Sarah Hall is my favourite writer. Her novel The Electric Michelangelo is my favourite book. I have no time for the ‘but how can you choose?’ brigade. Simple: Hall’s work changed my view of the world. It took me to Coney Island; it inspired my PhD thesis; it speaks to me about my life. I am evangelical about her work.
‘Mrs Fox’ tells the story of a woman who transforms into a fox while her husband attempts to adjust his life around her. Read that sentence again, it’s radical.
From Madame Zero. Winner of the BBC National Short Story Award 2013