Patrick McCabe Criticism - Essay

Eddy von Mueller (review date January/February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Butcher Boy, in Bloomsbury Review, January/February, 1994, p. 23.

[In the following review, von Mueller praises McCabe's The Butcher Boy as “an absolute masterpiece.”]

Imagine a world seen through the eyes of a little boy lost in the kaleidoscopic maze of fear and grief. Imagine a world where small-town sensibilities and pop-culture flotsam collide with childish fancy and lethal rage. Such is the world of The Butcher Boy.

Patrick McCabe's newest novel created quite a stir when it appeared across the water. The Butcher Boy won kudos and wowed critics throughout England and Ireland, garnering the 1992 Irish Times' Aer Lingus Prize. Now, thanks to Fromm International, American audiences can experience one of the most chilling reads to emerge in a long, long time.

Francie Brady lives in a small Irish town, the son of an alcoholic trumpeter and his manic wife. His story, told in first-person narrative, is one of numbing horror and wrenching sadness.

Unable to come to grips with the erosion of his parents and bewildered by the chaotic boundary between fantasy and an all-too-grim reality, Francie retreats ever further into himself. The arrival of a new family, the Nugents, to his staid community sets in motion the machine of Francie's madness. The Nugents come to represent all that frays the fragile fabric of his world. Change becomes conspiracy, loss becomes assault, and Francie quickly becomes his neighbor's worst nightmare. And ours.

Francie's mother suffers a mental breakdown and is sent to a “garage”; it is the first of what the troubled boy...

(The entire section is 712 words.)

Joseph J. Feeney (review date 30 April 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Butcher Boy, in America, Vol. 170, No. 15, April 30, 1994, pp. 22-23.

[In the following excerpt, Feeney lauds the prose in McCabe's The Butcher Boy and asserts that the novel offers “unforgettable insight into a victim's pain.”]

Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy and Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha are neither political nor mythic, but they probe deeply and cannily into the consciousness of two boys and are spun with Irish word-skill. The Butcher Boy is the more painful, its tone set by the first sentence: “When I was a young lad twenty or thirty or forty years ago I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I done on Mrs. Nugent.” That “done on Mrs. Nugent” is determinative, as it evokes suspense, menace, even a swaggering boast. It also establishes a distinctive voice, through which Francie Brady tells about his life: drunk father and crazy mother, a job in a slaughterhouse, Catholic reform school, his lost friend Joe Purcell, his struggle to survive. His story also reveals his peculiar consciousness—a mental olio of pigs, comic books, “the telly,” John Wayne movies, family, friends, astronauts and aliens, the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Father Bubble” at the Reform School and songs like “The Butcher Boy”—“about a woman hanging from a rope because this butcher boy told her lies.”


(The entire section is 429 words.)

Michael Hemmingson (review date Spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Butcher Boy, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XV, No. 1, Spring, 1995, p. 172.

[In the following review, Hemmingson discusses the characters' insanity in McCabe's The Butcher Boy.]

This trade paperback reprint of McCabe's 1992 Booker Prize Nominee and winner of the Irish Times-Aer Lingus Literature Prize for Fiction launches the “Cutting Edge” series from Delta, one month after the imprint's founding editor, Jeanne Cavelos (who also began the Abyss line of literary horror titles for Dell), left the company—so whether or not this interesting series continues (interesting with the other titles they have announced for the future) remains to be seen. A series like Cutting Edge (despite its overwrought icon for a name) is needed in the commercial publishing world of today, to offset Stephen King's latest and Erica Jong's woes-as-memoirs about getting old.

The Butcher Boy is a peculiar and morose tale told by a young Irish boy who comes from an alcoholic family and lives in rural Ireland. To say it's another “coming-of-age” story would not give it credit; it's a maddening ride with overtones of Huckleberry Finn and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man mixed with Hannibal Lecter and Freddie Krueger. You can hear, clearly, the Irish dialect of the characters as if they were recorded and played to you, rather than reading the words on a page. The young narrator, Francie, is a depressing, painful, and hurtful voice from the edge of nowhere, and he's insane. Insanity runs amok in The Butcher Boy, and leaves you feeling empty in the end.

The people of the macrocosm Francie lives in refer to his family as “the pig family,” and Francie becomes obsessed with the image and ideas of pigs, so that he's constantly ranting about pigs and piglike things, comparable to the psychotic bestial-referencing voice in Pink Floyd's classic album Animals. Francie believes, as we become engrossed in his ramblings, that he is not a human being, he's a pig—so he does inhuman things, in a world that just doesn't seem to make very much sense. Oddly enough, this book is being marketed more toward a horror-reading audience than mainstream, but like Patrick McGrath, both surpasses and accords categories.

Josephine Balmer (review date 21 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Master Class,” in Observer, No. 10622, May 21, 1995, p. 15.

[In the following review, Balmer discusses the randomness of fate in McCabe's The Dead School.]

Patrick McCabe used to walk up and down Kilburn High street in search of a happy ending. He was turning over the idea that there might be a gentle way out of the blackness of his new novel, The Dead School. The men living on the pavement outside the Kentucky Fried Chicken shop would shout: ‘Hey pal, got any money?’ They could have stepped out of his book. Or perhaps they stepped into it. The happy ending, at any rate, was nowhere in sight.

Patrick McCabe made his name with...

(The entire section is 1080 words.)

Sean O'Brien (review date 26 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Terror in Transition,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4808, May 26, 1995, p. 22.

[In the following review, O'Brien discusses the inevitable outcome of McCabe's The Dead School.]

Life in Patrick McCabe's The Dead School rapidly becomes terrible. Then, for a time, things appear to the protagonists to be otherwise, until fate closes its waters over their heads and throws in a few hand-grenades for good measure. If the characters have some margin for illusion, readers are never in doubt about the outcome. Cornered by the author's insinuating tones, though, most will find it hard to resist hearing his dreadful and sometimes appallingly funny story...

(The entire section is 761 words.)

Rosemary Mahoney (review date 28 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Tale as Talisman,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 28, 1995, pp. 1, 5.

[In the following review, Mahoney asserts that “McCabe can be forgiven … for his occasional ham-handedness and unlikeliness of plot purely based on the agility of his prose, the sheer force of his language ” in The Dead School.]

Romantic Ireland's dead and gone. So too, it seems, is love. Patrick McCabe's new novel provides horrible and humorous confirmation of both. The Dead School is a tale of the calamitous clash between old Ireland and new, a spellbinding story of betrayal and broken dreams narrated to wonderfully menacing effect by a professional storyteller...

(The entire section is 1092 words.)

Denis Donoghue (review date 8 June 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Kicking the Air,” in New York Review of Books, Vol. 42, No. 10, June 8, 1995, p. 45.

[In the following excerpt, Donoghue complains that McCabe does not bring the city of Dublin to life in The Dead School, and that the novel is not as powerful as McCabe's earlier The Butcher Boy.]

Patrick McCabe's reputation largely depends upon The Butcher Boy (1992), a gothic tale of small-town Ireland in which a boy, Francie Brady, starts out sounding like Tom Sawyer and ends up murdering a local woman, Mrs. Nugent. Francie's mother is insane and drowns herself; his father is a drunk. Francie gets a job in a pig slaughterhouse. The culture The Butcher...

(The entire section is 1100 words.)

Kate Grimond (review date 24 June 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Teaching Them No End of a Lesson,” in Spectator, Vol. 274, No. 8711, June 24, 1995, p. 35.

[In the following review, Grimond asserts, “Though here and there it irritates, Patrick McCabe's lilting way with words [in The Dead School] is ultimately memorable and persuasive.”]

The headmaster—a man of influence and stature—of St. Antony's Boys Primary School in Dublin appoints in 1975, many years through his headship, a newly qualified young teacher to take charge of Class 3. [The Dead School] tells the story of Raphael Bell and Malachy Dudgeon, the first born in 1913 and the second in 1956, and their downfall following the coming together...

(The entire section is 657 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 December 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 December 1996)

SOURCE: A review of Carn, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXIV, No. 23, December 1, 1996, pp. 1694-95.

[In the following review, the critic lauds McCabe's Carn.]

The first U.S. publication of an early novel, [Carn] by McCabe (the acclaimed Butcher Boy, 1993, and The Dead School, 1995) once again demonstrates his unsparing, precise view of the mingled anger, sorrow, and boredom at the heart of modern Irish life.

The town of Carn is somewhere up north, near the border where Ireland ends and North Ireland begins, and it's not much of a place. A small railway...

(The entire section is 350 words.)

George O'Brien (review date 26 January 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Coming of Age in a Time of Troubles,” in Washington Post Book World, Vol. 27, No. 4, January 26, 1997, p. 4.

[In the following review, O'Brien points to some of the flaws in McCabe's Carn, but asserts that the novel is still “notable and worthwhile.”]

It’s 1959, and the last train has left the town of Carn, “half a mile from the Irish border.” But instead of this being the end of the line for Carn, it turns out to be the beginning of a new era, the era of James Cooney, meat factor, property developer and returned Yank (prominent in his refurbished Turnpike Inn are pictures of John F. Kennedy and Davy Crockett).

Soon Carn...

(The entire section is 840 words.)

Patrick McCabe with Christopher FitzSimon (interview date Spring/Summer 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Patrick McCabe with Christopher FitzSimon (interview date Spring/Summer 1998)

SOURCE: “St. Macartan, Minnie the Minx and Mondo Movies: Elliptical Peregrinations through the Subconscious of a Monoghan Writer Traumatised by Cows and the Brilliance of James Joyce,” in Irish University Review, Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring/Summer, 1998, pp. 175-89.

[In the following interview, McCabe discusses his background and career.]

[Christopher FitzSimon:] Ladies and gentlemen we're here to welcome and listen to Pat McCabe, author of Shay Mouse, Music on Clinton Street, Carn, The Butcher Boy and The Dead School. The Butcher Boy, as everyone knows,...

(The entire section is 7339 words.)

Hermione Lee (review date 24 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Bloody Sunday in Hot Pants,” in Observer, May 24, 1998, p. 17.

[In the following review, Lee discusses the horrifying world of Patrick Braden in McCabe's Breakfast on Pluto.]

This is a horrible and pathetic story, told with irresistible zest, brio, and gaiety. That's what we've come to expect from Patrick McCabe, and Breakfast on Pluto is no disappointment. He is a dark genius of incongruity and the grotesque. Whether with the boy misfit-turned-crazed-murderer in The Butcher Boy, or the demented headmaster in The Dead School, McCabe's brilliant, startling talent is to make enchantingly dashing narratives out of the most ghastly states...

(The entire section is 837 words.)

Colin Lacey (interview date 16 November 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Patrick McCabe: A Comedy of Horrors,” in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 245, No. 46, November 16, 1998, pp. 50-1.

[In the following interview, McCabe discusses his career as an author.]

On a Wednesday night so dark and wet it has cleared the Sligo streets of life, P[ublishers] W[eekly] arrives at Patrick McCabe's terraced house in the center of town and immediately feels like an intruder into a scene of everyday domestic turmoil. McCabe, a two-time Booker Prize nominee, is cursing a computer that will not allow his 13-year-old daughter to go on-line in search of information on the Titanic. It's for a school assignment, she...

(The entire section is 2090 words.)