Book Review: Slaughter // Rosanna Hildyard

Sometimes you look at an animal and think how easy their life must be. That is what Rosanna Hildyard achieves in her pamphlet of short stories Slaughter. She carefully juxtaposes the complexity of the rational human being with the animal who lives and dies. Language is at the forefront of all our conflicts in Hildyard’s writing, as we see the lack of communication tear through relationships.

Hildyard gives us three short stories situated in the bleak landscape of the Yorkshire Pennies. You can imagine the atmosphere without having visited — isolation and unfamiliar dialect. But there is also the wonderful beauty of nature. Although this is a work of prose, Hildyard carefully weaves in her poetic skills to rescue it from the suffocation of such gloomy topics.

Hildyard begins with ‘Offcomers’, which sets a tone of desperation. The two characters complain of tourists visiting during the height of the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, fearing their livestock will catch the disease. The narration follows a couple who do not quite understand each other. She can see that farming is unnatural and believes the disease may be a punishment for humanity. It seems like nature is laughing at them.

Although the weaker of the three stories, ‘Offcomers’ is hard-hitting. There are clear parallels to the current pandemic that some may be intrigued by and others shy away. However, it shows the importance of protecting the smaller locations that do have the medical support cities have.

‘Outside Are The Dogs’ displays the crippling effects of the failure of communication. The couple meet on a blind date which already seems like a recipe for disaster. This time the narration is in the third person. You understand both characters’ struggles, though there is an evident misunderstanding between the two genders. The male character buys her a dog hoping to evoke conversation. Inevitably, it only invites jealously into the house. It turns out she understands the dog better than her partner.

This piece of writing suffocates you. It makes you want to communicate their feelings. It all comes down to language. Hildyard perfectly showcases how complex human beings are. We can easily read animals emotions, but silence tells us nothing. It eats into a relationship and nurtures an array of negative responses.

These themes carry into ‘Cull Yaw’, a phrase which means an older ewe. In this third story, we follow another couple who are trying a more ethical approach to farming. The male character wishes to slaughter older ewes as it gives them a longer chance to live. Strangely, the protagonist abstains from eating meat, but has an interest in the violence of her lover. Presented with a contradiction of morals, we watch the narrator become more disoriented as their communication fades. They talk in silences. She attempts to put together their fragmented conversations. And in the end, like the other stories, their desperation prevails. They commit something shocking.

Hildyard’s Slaughter skilfully presents how complex human beings are, how important the nurturing of communication is in relationships and that silence and passivity causes love to rot like a neglected animal. Dark and heavy, the short stories are not for everyone — especially during the midst of the pandemic. Hildyard reminds us, in a time where we are restricted from human contact, to remember to communicate. Slaughtering communication is not an option.

Words by Georgia McInnes

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