Michelle Butler Hallett writes fiction about violence, evil, love, and grace. She is the author of the novels This Marlowe, deluded your sailors, Sky Waves, and Double-blind, and the story collection The shadow side of grace. Her short stories are widely anthologized: The Vagrant Revue of New Fiction, Hard Ol’ Spot, Running the Whale’s Back, Everything Is So Political, and Best American Mystery Stories 2014.
The surname is Butler Hallett (unhyphenated), not Hallett.
Butler Hallett’s work, at once striking, memorable and difficult to categorize, was praised by Books in Canada for “economy and power,” while The Globe and Mail noted that “demons are at work – the kind that lurk in the subconscious and surface, depending on the individual, as either despairing visions or acts of outright brutality. … Butler Hallett seems often to be creating from a subliminal place, riding on intuition, unencumbered by the counsel of editors.” Of Butler Hallett’s first novel, Double-blind, the 2008 Sunburst Award Jury said: “Sanity, madness, torture in the name of science — Double-blind is wonderfully original while chillingly based in history. … The writing is incredibly layered, with metaphor and symbol perfectly balanced against the hard neutrality of scientific language.”
For her 2008 novel, Sky Waves, Butler Hallett drew on her radio background and her troubled relationship with history. Sky Waves explores the often funny and often sad human need for – and fear of – meaningful communication. Described by the author as “a demented ‘aural’ culture novel,” Sky Waves is told as a drew, that is, as the ninety-eight meshes in a row of a fishing net. Throughout ninety-eight non-linear but interconnected chapters, several different narrators, characters and storylines are networked together ultimately to work as a story-mural against a timeline of 1901 to 2005. Sky Waves has been called “a dynamic and shape-shifting work that redefines the project of storytelling.” (Maple Tree Literary Supplement)
Butler Hallett’s 2011 novel, deluded your sailors, unfolds in two distinct and interwoven timelines: the early eighteenth-century New World and ten months of 2009 in a Republic of Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2009, battered but perceptive Nichole Wright, a beginning novelist, scores a commission to write a play for a heavily-funded tourism project — and discovers documents that will derail the whole project. Nichole pursues the research with a vicious dedication that hides how fast she’s running, and what she’s running from. The narrative Nichole unearths is the story of an early eighteenth-century girl, daughter of an unnamed prostitute, who reinvents herself as circumstances require, in turns victim, spy, and captain of a Salem trading vessel. Her threadbare disguise is ripped apart when her unacknowledged past meets her tenuous present. Finally forced to reveal many things kept hidden, she refuses to be exploited any further, but such defiance comes at great cost. This parallel storytelling echoes Nichole Wright’s fight to save herself from folly as she dares to open her eyes to the suffering, and the meaning, of others. Tackling, evil, mercy and the weights of both the past and the present, deluded your sailors is a startling story of violence, loss and love.
2016’s This Marlowe examines the agonies of faith, duty, love, and politics as Butler Hallett measures the weight of the body politic, the torment of the flesh, and the state of the soul. In 1593 England, Queen Elizabeth reigns while two rival spymasters — Sir Robert Cecil and the Earl of Essex — plot from the shadows to control succession. The man whose loyalty they both want: one Kit Marlowe, a cobbler’s son from Canterbury who has defied expectations and become an accomplished poet and playwright. When plague closes the theatres, Kit resumes intelligence and espionage work. As he fights to understand and survive a dark game that threatens his family and his beloved Tom Kyd, Kit begins to question nearly everything he once believed. Public and private tensions mount; accusations of treason and heresy fly; and Kit must make an impossible choice. The Miramichi Reader calls This Marlowe “a masterful work of historical fiction,” adding the story has “all the intrigue of a modern spy thriller.” The Winnipeg Review describes the novel as a “dense, daring genre hybrid [which] explores the dark realities of Elizabethan England, while throwing some refracted light onto our own turbulent time.” The Toronto Star consider Butler Hallett’s prose as “canny and tender” and concludes “Perfectly paced and gracefully wrought, This Marlowe is superior historical fare,” while Quill & Quire says “Complex, lyrical, and with a profound sense of a world long passed and humanity’s eternal motivations, This Marlowe holds up extremely well next to the most lauded recent historical fiction.”
Michelle Butler Hallett lives in St John’s.