The pieces in the collection follow wayward, unnerving courses: each beginning in a place where we think we are comfortable, then taking us somewhere other ... None of these stories offers any redemption, personal or global: instead they say bluntly, insistently, in Hall’s smooth, clear prose, 'Look, this darkness is here' ... Great short stories are the shape of themselves: image, voice and plot dovetailed to the chosen form. Hall’s stories are vixen-shaped: urban and rural, feral and natural, female and stinky, beautiful and tough. Like Mrs Fox herself, they slide quietly into view and stare at us with their citrine eyes; exceptional, compelling, frightening and authentic.
Sarah Hall has created something wholly original. The nine stories span a number of genres, but all combine the surreal and the quotidian to haunting effect. This is a collection that’s easy to devour, but it will linger long after the reader finishes the final tale ... Hall’s stories are wildly disparate in content, but united by their gravitation to darkness ... Hall’s use of language is masterful, eliciting deep emotions with subtle turns and illusionary references. Her stories create worlds—whether vast dystopias or a family’s living room—that feel real but never overly polished. In Madame Zero’s nine brief stories, Hall covers a staggering amount of ground, crafting compelling narratives that are expansive despite their brevity. Sensual and chilling by turns, this collection is electric.
Hall writes brilliantly about women, particularly women as they are observed and imagined by men, and when she adopts the male gaze for her narrators and characters it is both virtuoso and troubling ... All Hall’s short stories have at their heart an interest in base instinct rather than social convention, physical reaction rather than rational thought; and the intensity with which she explores the transgression of psychological, geographical and corporeal boundaries lends her work a darkly sensuous precariousness that’s uniquely challenging and compelling. Madame Zero may not be for milquetoasts, but it’s all the richer for it.
[Hall is] adept at matching voice to narrative, and her language is inventive and expressive without being a distraction; more often than not, she finds just the right words for entirely unfamiliar situations. All the author’s strengths are evident in 'Mrs. Fox'—an award-winning story and the best in this volume—in which a woman called Sophia turns into a canid. The fact that Hall offers no naturalistic reason or magical explanation for this metamorphosis is intensely satisfying ... Hall finds the weirdness in everyday life and makes the strange feel quotidian.
...a disquieting demonstration of the power of the form ... These unnerving stories hover over unspoken truths ... Hall, whose fiction is known for its sense of place (specifically the countryside of her native Cumbria), has set herself a challenge, searching for meaning in other avenues. The results are challenging and thought-provoking.