The Butcher Boy Review by Lauren Redmond
Title- The Butcher Boy
Author- Patrick McCabe
Date of Publication- 1992
Genre- General Fiction
My Rating- 4/5 stars
I loved this book. Everything from beginning to end fascinated me. Upon starting the writing seems off putting in its clumsily assembled way with no speech commas, sparing full stops and commas in a manner very reminiscent of McCarthy’s ‘The Road.’
Francie Brady lives in a small Irish town. He is a disillusioned youth who seemingly doesn’t attend school and tethers always on the brink of spiralling madness. He is the product of an abusive alcoholic father and a mother who succumbs to a mental breakdown and dies early on in the novel. Francie mistakenly blames himself for her death and lives completely in his own highly imaginative world and views the rest of the towns inhabitants like alien beings of an unknown planet except Francie Brady himself is the alien on the loose in this town. He has one friend in the world- Joe Purcell and Francie’s friendship with him is unbearably threatened by the arrival of new boy Philip Nugent. Francie immediately turns against him with a seeping small minded paranoia that at first appears to childish jealously and then descends completely into madness, all directed at the Nugent’s. First his attack against them begins with simply stealing comics then works up to defecating in their house marking the start of Francie’s occasional trips in and out of a priest’s home for boys. Here, Francie begins to fake visions of the Virgin Mary and for this is promptly abused by Father Tiddly. This is handled surprisingly well in a humorous but detached manner. Upon being released from the home, Francie is not cured however, but instead the discovery that Joe and Philip are in a boarding school however drives him understandably over the edge and towards acting out a terrible and merciless revenge upon the Nugent’s’, the townspeople and indeed life itself.
The book itself has a very detached style to it- done excellently by McCabe’s refusal to use speech commas. Everybody in the town is viewed with contempt or simply as some form of an eejit. But Francie is more than just a poor misguided youth; he goes from sociopath to psychopath in a matter of several chapters. McCabe’s clever use of language make it seem as though everything happens in a nonstop barraging, unending flow of words as they whisk by mirroring Francie’s experiences of the world he perceives. The manner of such is nothing short of powerful.
Many scenes in the book are grimacingly harrowing, surreal and tragic and captured again by McCabe’s writing. Throughout it the reader is allowed to subjectively explore the ramblings of a psychopathic youth capturing completely how Francie seems unsure but never afraid of the world. This in turn makes the reader unsure of the things Francie perceives. Things are never as they seem and as a result the reader is shocked by the nature of Francie’s broken, corrupted mind. A single, fleeting sentence reveals a truly disturbing scenario to be far worse that the vivid delusions of Francie’s mind, particularly the scenes involving Francie’s father, in which the true nature of what has happened is hinted at throughout but never truly revealed through Francie’s perception, giving the reader a glimpse into Francie’s delicate psyche.
There are genuinely funny instances in the book, such as Francie’s interactions with ‘Mr and Mrs Pig’- the Nugent’s, ‘Father Bubble’ and his ‘bony-arse brigade.’ But also within are genuinely sad moments too, one such is Francie’s continuous blaming himself for his mother’s death and Joe Purcell’s growing friendship with Philip Nugent. All of these scenes are handled in a heartbreaking but believable way, through Francie’s skewed but methodical mind. The reader watches as Francie descends into insanity brought on by his own spiralling jealousy and alienation.
The book is painful, humorous, believable and disturbing but simply too fascinating to abandon. We never get an explanation for Francie’s madness, which is somehow fitting- the reader must simply view Francie’s downfall subjectively and helplessly. It is a book to be experienced, not read.