Cover Image: Easy Meat

Easy Meat

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

It’s the day of the Brexit referendum but Caleb Jenkins doesn’t think he’s going to vote. Employed as a butcher in a slaughterhouse in the South Wales valleys alongside a largely Polish workforce, he’s more concerned with hanging onto his job and regaining his physical fitness so he can win the Swansea triathlon in September. Winning the 18-24 category in the Ironman five years before made him a temporary celebrity and Welsh reality TV star, but his victory also led to heartbreak when he was deceived by a girlfriend who wanted to keep him at any cost. Now he’s trying to support his unemployed family and ‘get back to the point in his life when he’d been winning’, but everything seems to be stacked against him.

I’ve read a couple of brilliant novels recently that deal with the meat industry (Ruth Gilligan’s The Butchers, Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats) and Rachel Trezise’s novella Easy Meat is no exception, although here the slaughterhouse largely acts as a backdrop, demonstrating the brutal physicality of Caleb’s working life, rather than raising any ethical questions about meat consumption and quality. Easy Meat has also been described as an exploration of why so many chose to vote Leave, but what’s so impressive about Trezise’s take on the referendum is that Brexit very much fades into the background. Caleb ends up filling in his ballot at the very last minute, and while we can guess which way his vote went – ‘ “Remain” meant that everything would stay the same but “Leave” meant something had to change’ – we aren’t actually told. Nor does he share the typical characteristics of stereotyped Brexit voters, demonstrating solidarity with his Polish workmates and actually envying the close bonds they have with each other.

If I had a reservation about Trezise’s portrayal of Brexit in this novella, it’s that it plays a little into the idea that the Leave vote was driven primarily by ‘left-behind’ working-class voters, when this has been debunked. Nevertheless, there’s much more to Easy Meat than its Brexit narrative; it’s a vivid snapshot of one day in a young man’s life as he tries to accelerate into his future but seems to already be slowing to a halt.
Was this review helpful?
It's Brexit vote day.  Momentous for many but for Caleb, it's another day on the line at the slaughterhouse.  This is an interesting slice of life novel about a young man struggling to keep himself and his family above financial ruin.  He was once a minor star but now, he's just another cog in the wheel.  His parents lost their business, his boss is horrid, and frankly, the work is awful (beware that it's graphically described).  Trezise has done a terrific job of making the world financial crisis and Brexit come to life in the person of Caleb.  Thanks to netgalley for the ARC.  A valuable read.
Was this review helpful?
With the notable exception of Jon McGregor, books dealing with the here and now, that see the potential in the everyday experiences of ordinary people and the daily challenges they face, are relatively uncommon. Most people want a bit of drama and escapism in their books, a good plot and a thrilling narrative. Rachel Trezise's Easy Meat turns that all around, looking at the people who need that sense of escapism just to get through this point in their lives. With a setting in north Wales on the day of the Brexit referendum, it considers what happens when that need for escapism runs up against a political agenda that has little genuine care or consideration for people's lives and livelihoods.

Caleb works in an abattoir, partly through necessity and partly through choice, as his previous experience on a reality TV show has left him seeking anonymity and in some way perhaps, a hands-on dealing with a truer sense of reality. You could see some kind of metaphor in the descriptive passages of butchery, an unpleasant necessity that few wish to think about as they set food out on their tables, but Caleb's job also indicates the kind of work that has been done in this part of the world by many European migrant workers under poor working conditions. Another inconvenient reality that people are willing to put aside as the polling stations open on the voting day on referendum for remaining or leaving the EU.

Caleb has no strong feelings either way and doesn't even intend to vote. He has other everyday concerns with his father's carpet business having gone under, with sorting out the mess that has been left with his marriage breakup, with an employer on his back looking for any opportunity to belittle and sack him, and with just basic everyday concerns about having enough cash to buy lunch. Caleb however is determined to pull himself back up to the kind of peak fitness that saw him as a minor local celebrity as an athlete. He's going to get back to training and turn things around for the better. When he finds the right time.

"If he could just catch a break he knew he'd hit the ground running, an accumulator on the Euro semi-finals or a bank error in his favour. Even Monopoly had a community chest". This is the desperation of many people, and it's beautifully expressed in the writing, in such little relatable turns of phrase. There's a deeper side to Caleb's longing however and another side to the expression of his predicament, the universal predicament of everyone who longs to escape the harsh reality of today. That comes through most starkly in the description of Caleb's work, in the situation of his mostly European co-workers and in the attitudes that he sees hardening in the members of his own family.

It's also notable that song lyrics feature heavily, Caleb finding words that hold meaning for him in the songs he listens to that give him a sense of strength or solidarity with other people's experience. That of course is another means of escapism, getting lost in the music and the sentiments. There is nothing in Trezise's writing however that lets such romanticising take over, there's nothing that sounds preachy or condescending, no diatribes or political agenda being pushed through Caleb and his situation. Rather the little details of people's everyday worries, hopes and way of relating to the world all point to a sense of alienation and disillusionment - for each one of them - that could lead each of them either to give up or look desperately for a way out.

Although it is set in 2016, seldom have I seen a book that deals in such a way with the realities of people's lives in the here and now. Easy Meat takes in what music means to people, what family and work mean to ordinary people, how they rely on social media and how it can be an unhealthy problem and how (little) most feel about political agendas being pushed in Westminster. Trezise weaves these simple relatable parts of life beautifully into something that feels real and vital, that strives to get to grips with how people deal with the reality around them, and how they can be - and have been - seen as easy meat to be exploited by others.
Was this review helpful?
Easy Meat is very different from anything I would usually choose to read but something about this odd little tale piqued my interest.

Set in wales in 2016, this is A story about Caleb Jenkins, an almost broken 22 year old man doing everything just to live, to exist. 

The story tells of a few days in his life, living in a small room in his own house with his brother, and his parents. His parents having lost everything and now financially ruined, they have to live with their son.

Caleb is the only one out working and his work place and vile supervisor play a large role in this story. He works in a slaughterhouse. The descriptions of that particular place come thick, fast and often. Not one for the squeamish.

There are flashbacks or memory’s throughout of experience of Caleb’s past.

He was a minor celebrity once.

A quite often moving, poignant account of a young mans life, it’s not a happy book. It’s not dark as such but it can feel brutal as it deals in reality, there are no punches pulled in this tale.

The back drop to the story is also of Brexit with the referendum pending.

A strange but interesting and intriguing read, it’s very short, just over 100 pages, and one I’m glad to have read though I found it hard to review.

Thanks to Parthian Books and NetGalley for my Review copy.
Was this review helpful?
Set in Rhosybol, South Wales, the story revolves around a young man named Caleb Jenkins and his family, Mason and his parents. Caleb’s been trying to make ends meet ever since his father’s carpet business went bust and has now been repossessed by the bank. 

Once a  reality TV star and Iron Man contender, Caleb now works as a butcher in a slaughter called Cleflock Beef 🥩 and has an insufferable boss named Morris. Overall a fast and interesting read. Would recommend.

Thank you to Rachael Trezise, NetGalley, and Parthian Books for the ARC of this book.
Was this review helpful?
I’m the first person to review this book on GR, so I’ll try to expand on the somewhat laconic official description. 
No such thing as easy meat. Though vegetarians beware, this novel spends way too much time in a slaughterhouse, in graphic detail. The latter is necessary to create the scene, it’s a melting pot of immigrants and some locals, working a sh*t job in an economically depressed area of Wales on Brexit vote day.
The protagonist is a young man who, despite all the early promise and potential, now finds himself down in the dumps, his athletic career stalled, his family’s carpet business gone and both of his parents and his unemployed conspiracy theorist brother are living with him and on his dime and possibly the most devastating of all, a monumental personal devastation including a lying manipulative ex and a situation that resulted in a public scandal. 
Far cry from a fit 22 year old marathoner who starred on a reality tv show. Now his only option is the slaughterhouse, a job that slays him physically and mentally. Though the sanest and most progressive of his entire family, life’s just too trying and change’s just too tempting. So how does someone like that vote on a decision that’ll change the course of the entire country? And why?
That’s the novel, essentially. Short and poignant, it’s a portrait of a young man as a…well, beaten down young man. And much like a good portrait, it provides an excellent depiction of a moment in time, but one that’s informed by all that’s come before it. And it is effective as such. The character engages, the writing engages, it provides quite an immersive reading experience. 
Plus I enjoyed the fact that it was based in Wales, something different, fascinating mostly by the sheer power of scenery and the bizarre linguistic convolutions. I mean, that’s how I imagine dyslexia would look like if it became a written language. It’s like vowels and consonants are at war with each other. Or some elaborate dance. 
Anyway…the thing until 2020 struck Brexit was the most interesting political snafu taking place in a first world country…or it would have been had US not stepped in and stole the show in such a horrifying fashion. So I’ve read a lot about it, in the news, nonfiction books, etc. and it was interesting to read about it in fictional form, because for me this was very much a Brexit novel as opposed to, say, a character drama. And so I’m glad I read it, though that was way, way too much time was spent in an abattoir. Really, any amount of time would have bene too much, but that was above and beyond and so freaking detailed, too detailed. Yes, it was meant to highlight the brutality of the job and of protagonist’s life, but…oh…brutal.
And I suppose the book is brutal too, the way the world beats people down and makes easy meat of them. So not a happy read by any means, but good literary drama with political significance. Thanks Netgalley.
Was this review helpful?