Conrad ran. He didn’t understand exactly what he had done, except that he had run away, and therefore felt he had done something wrong. But the man in the black coat, who seemed to have taken possession of him over the last day, kept saying he would take him somewhere to die. And Conrad didn’t want to die, even though the man in the black coat said he must.
Conrad doesn’t remember his parents or even when he came to this town. The woman who looked after him is dead, and now he is alone, living on the streets. Befriended by other urchins, who live in a tomb beneath a rich man’s house, he learns to scavenge and to fend for himself.
In time, he is taken in by a slaughterman, who begins to teach him his trade, but when hard times hit the town, Conrad finds himself once more alone and fighting for survival. Through a series of fortunes and misfortunes he manages to survive and grow into a young man, who must trust no one but himself if he is to satisfy his almost insatiable hunger.
Slaughterboy is a dark book. Conrad lives in a world of beggars and thieves, and as a young boy trying to survive, is befriended by dishonest people who will use him to meet their own needs. Conrad, in turn, is a survivor, who loves no one and nothing. His driving force is to satisfy his hunger. Having nearly starved to death more than once, he is determined never to know such privation again. His desperate appetite leads to him being labelled as a Hungerboy – a child who will eat his way through everything in a household, bringing destruction.
Whilst it may be a dark tale, however, it is deeply compelling. Hirsch is a master story teller, able to create empathy for a character who, on close examination, has few redeeming qualities. The setting of the unnamed medieval town is painted to well that the reader can see and even smell the fetid streets and the desperate characters who roam them.
Suitable for teen and adult readers, Slaughterboy is a challenging, gripping read.
Slaughterboy, by Odo Hirsch
Allen & Unwin, 2005