The Butcher by Laura Kat Young
Titan Books, paperback, £8.99
Reviewed by Robin C.M. Duncan
Normally, I would try to keep myself out of a review and remain objective about a book, but I found that impossible with this story, which is so painfully intimate, sharply focused and internalised in character. This book is wonderfully well written; its style and language are immersive, even cinematic, and create a sense of place and depth of character that is enthralling. As a result, unusually for me, I read it in only a handful of days, compelled to reach the end of a story that is completely fascinating.
I would not describe this as horror: the proceedings are just too baldly realistic and direct. It is a grim read, yes, and the very definition of dystopian, but so rigidly consistent are the story’s gruesome events (mostly off-page), so unsurprising and coherently aligned with this vengeful society that, if anything, the novel takes on a more literary aspect. Never was I horrified for one moment, but I did feel the oppressive weight of the situation, even as the quality of the writing propelled me through this quite remarkable work.
Then, near the end, comes the dramatic turning point, which is external to the main character and, as a result, takes place off-page. My stride faltered here, so close to the end, because I could not understand why a certain key attitude changed. Of course, I finished the story, the quality of the writing, tension and drama of the dénouement would not permit anything else, but that faltering in my comprehension stayed with me. Now, I find myself doubting that my perceived issue was there at all. Maybe I missed something. Still, the ending remained a powerful statement, an affecting release: I’m just not clear on why it happened.
On this basis, my conclusion would be to invite you to decide for yourselves. This is possibly the best prose, the most readable book, that I have encountered this year; also the most powerful setting and the most troubled, perhaps damaged characters that I have read recently. Where that takes you is very much something for the individual reader to decide, but still, I would recommend this book if its description lies in your area of interest. It deserves to be read, and it deserves to be talked about.