This is the first book of Sarah Hall's I've read. It's a collection of seven stories, all from a female point of view and set mostly in the North West.
She is obviously a writer's writer.
Words are used precisely, carefully; now and then, over-preciously. She uses phrases like 'Benthic silence' and words like 'anomic'.
Her prose is serious, humourless, highly in tune with the natural world. Mink, dogs, horses, foxes, bees all feature heavily.
Her interests are in relationships, mostly between people like doctors, lawyers, academics, journalists and, I'm afraid to say, authors (though she does not write about work). The kind of people who go on holiday to slightly off beat places ( two of these stories are of the 'couple on trip get into trouble' ilk). This allows her to write sentences such as: 'She thought about the blue Arabia crockery they had seen in the antique market by the quay in Helsinki' and 'the air was heavy, greenly perfumed and the avian calls were loud and greasy.' (Greasy?)
These people's marriages have become loveless or mildly abusive. Her female protagonists run away from them or pay for the love they lack in plush hotels. It's hardly revolutionary, but it is exactly described.
Sex is an activity of the utmost earnestness: her protagonists suffer 'peculiar tearful euphoria in climax': 'the world before and after was incredibly vivid' she writes. 'The heat and the smell and closeness of him was peculiarly surrounding, amniotic. ' No one has the perfectly alright, occasional sex that sustains most relationships. Even the aged gypsy couple in the long, opening story, 'Butcher's Perfume' have unashamedly noisy couplings that turn the atmosphere 'gamier'.
The author writes little dialogue, much description. Hers are highly emotional but, thanks to her style, curiously bloodless worlds. No one watches TV or surfs the net or puts up a shelf or goes to the toilet. No one talks about politics or the state of the economy or The X-Factor. They hunt mink, order venison, swim naked in Finnish lakes.
These stories are compelling, beautifully rendered and have complex resolutions, but for me, are just a little artificial.