Patrick McCabe: Commentary

Aubrey Dillon-Malone
John Waters
Shaun Whiteside
Pat Collins
Thomas Kilroy
Kate Grimond
George O’Brien
Patrick Brennan
Alan Riding
Gerry Smyth
Shirley Kelly
John Kenny
Ruth Scurr
Tom Gilling
John Dunne
Martyn Bedford
Joe Jackson
Derek Hand
Robert MacFarlane
Arminta Wallace
Aisling Foster
Jennifer M. Jeffers
C. L. Dallat
John O’Mahony
John Kenny
Irvine Welsh
Rosalind Porter

[See also remarks on in Julia O’Faolain, ‘The Furies of Irish Fiction’, in Graph (Spring 1998) - as attached.]

[ top ]

Aubrey Dillon-Malone, review of Pat McCabe, Music on Clinton Street (Raven 1987), in Books Ireland (May 1987): title from Cohen song; ‘in the loose symbolism of the book, Clinton Street (for which read the mesmeric freedom of the sixties) is counterpointed with the mind-spraining claustrophobia of a boarding school where two people - one a pupil, one a Junior Dean - traverse painful odysseys towards (hopefully) a kind of epiphany … the Irish clergy still entrenched in stranglehold of Civil War politics and a Dark Age morality code. ‘McCabe writes with that kind of intense conviction you find in many Northern scribes … His manner of expression is relentless and urgent, and often becomes prose poetry. Elsewhere, he tends to let it grind down into a kind of poor man’s sociology of the time. The early pages, too, would appear to be heavily derivative of Joyce […] But this is a worthwhile book’ (BI, May 1987, p.95.)

John Waters, interview with Patrick McCabe, Irish Times (31 Oct. 1992); Author of The Butcher Boy (1992; reiss. Picador pb. 1993), Aer Lingus Irish Lit. Prize for Fiction 1992; the story of Francie Brady, set in a town like McCabe’s native Clones; the title is from a song; deals with circumstances suggested by real murder in Clones in 1904, the victim John Flanagan, and the culprit Joe Fee; researched in Anglo-Celt; a radio play by Patrick Shea, and a book called The Voices in the Sound of Drums. Stage-play of McCabe’s book presented as Frank Pig Says Hello by Co-Motion Theatre, Dublin Theatre Fest., 1992; ‘one reason The Butcher Boy came to be written the way it was that I was beyond the Pale as far as publication was concerned. The first draft of the book was imperiously rejected by my previous publisher as a load of rubbish. I was quite devastated, really. And in a way, this kind of liberation started to move within me.’ [...] this whole prize-winning ethos, and the ludicrous jealousy that there is between authors [...] I think of the book as being more in the oral tradition, Kitty-the-Hare type of thing, or Eamonn Kelly. Like Eamonn Kelly on drugs!’ He has an acute grasp of the scale of his achievement with The Butcher Boy, a quiet pride visible against the relief of his own self-criticism. Now that he has seen Joe O’Byrne’s stage version, he worries that the book may be Too hard on Francie [...] But Pat McCabe knows how good the Butcher Boy is [...] ‘It’s good to have known failure’ [...]. (Weekend, p.5.)

Shaun Whiteside, review of The Butcher Boy, in The Guardian (16 April 1992): ‘[...] no one has taken the trouble to mind Francie, either. The account of his vertiginous slide into delinquency, madness and much worse is masterfully achieved. As his story lurches towards the inevitable horrors of its conclusion, the schoolboy chuckles turn slowly, almost unnoticeably, into chilling snorts of genuine insanity. To overstress the compassion with which McCabe treats his protagonist might risk making this powerful book, with its fierce, black humour, sound like a pious tract, and it’s anything but - it’s impossible not to be drawn into Francie Brady’s world, but Christ knows you wouldn’t want him in your house. Yet the compassion is there. Like John Banville in The Book of Evidence, Patrick McCabe has given us a shockingly intimate portrait of a mind out of kilter, but in the company of Francie Brady he guides us a good few steps further into hell. [End]’ (For full text, see infra.)

Pat Collins talks to Pat McCabe about The Butcher Boy, A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing (for television), his views on cinema, the theatre and RTE’, in Film West, 20 (Spring 1995); McCabe recounts how Neil Jordan rang him to offer a film version of Butcher’s Boy, but was then himself offered Michael Collins film after the success of Interview with a Vampire. Other screenplays mentioned are The Birdman of Abbeyshrule, and Die Screaming Mama, and a script for Thaddeus O’Sullivan called Lonesome in Paradise. (pp.10-14.)

Thomas Kilroy, ‘Book of the Day’, review of The Dead School (1995), in Irish Times (17 May 1995), [q.p.]; writes: ‘Raphael Bell, National School Teacher (b.1913) represents one Ireland, and Malachy Dudgeon (b.1956) represents the other. The collision between the two of them in a Dublin school and its fall-out, make up the bulk of the books [...] a kind of fictional version of what has happened to this country over the last 25 yrs., the Legion of Mary meets Sam Peckinpah [...] comic but despairing, laughter in an enshrouding darkness.’

Kate Grimond, review of The Dead School, in Spectator (24 June 1995), [q.p.]; writes about the characters downfall; St Anthony’s Boys’ Primary School; Malachy’s father throws himself in lake following wife’s flagrant adulterer with local cowman in boatshed, witnessed by son; quotes, ‘The story I have for you this morning is all about the two teachers and the things they got up to in the days gone by. It begins in the years of our lord 1956 in a maternity hospital in Ireland when a wee fat chubby lad by the name of Malachy fell out of Cissie who was married to Packie Dudgeon, the biggest bollocks in town’; Malachy cannot handle [...] Ms Evans, who has talked in public about abortion [and] wants all sort of changes; abandonment of sodalities and rosaries; Irish allegiances no longer hold; takes to the bottle; cruel to devoted wife Nessa, who dies; child drowns; moves to London; disgusting vignettes of crumbled lives; a rounder voice [...] than The Butcher Boy.’

[ top ]

George O’Brien, review Carn [rep, edn.] (Delta 1997), in The Washington Post, ‘Book World’ (26 January 1997), [q.p.]: ‘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 is booming, and the boom’s accessories play their part. Jukeboxes inspire teenagers like Sadie Rooney with love and longing. Benny Dolan, heir to a family tradition of militant republicanism, takes off on a Suzuki for Istanbul instead of taking up arms. Older Carn people are affected, too. Josie Keenan, home from a dubious career as a Manchester barmaid, hardly recognises the town where as a young girl she was abused and abandoned. Pat Lacey, a solid citizen, finds a new lease on life as coach of the suddenly successful local soccer team. It is a time of dreaming, openness, prosperity, possibility - the good old 1960s. But as the intertwined stories of Sadie, Benny, Josie and Pat reveal, it is also a time of excruciating naiveté and need, to which they fall victim when times change. One of the early signals of that change is the kind of boom with which the ’60s and the first part of Carn close, an unannounced bomb that takes the life of the novel’s most colorful and most harmless character, ironically named Blast Morgan. The bomb is one of the ways that the Northern Irish “Troubles” spill over the border and into the lives of Sadie, Benny, Pat and Josie, with ultimately dire consequences for each of them. But decisive as the effect of the “Troubles” is, it’s only one of the ways in which the growth and development of the characters is undetermined. Economic collapse plays its part. Josie’s affair with Pat Lacey has a tragic outcome. Sadie’s marriage to Benny does not exactly fulfil the promise of the jukebox. Josie’s friendship with Sadie is unable to provide her with the emotional support she needs. Benny passively becomes a creature of his republican lineage, which eventually earns him a life sentence for murder. The social prominence earned by Pat Lacey as soccer coach now ensures that he daren’t say no when nominated to be local organiser of the Anti-Divorce League. Rather than a predictable tale of boom-and-bust, much less a mechanical variation on the theme of plus ça change [...] / Carn is a disturbing, dramatic and affecting treatment of emotional and social vulnerability. Not that the author makes the assumption that one of these areas of experience is responsible for the other. He’s rather more imaginative than that. Indeed, one of the impressive features of this engrossing novel is how the personal and the public are shown to dovetail sometimes, to collide sometimes, to be deliberately antagonistic sometimes, but mostly to carry on oblivious of each other. Randomness characterises the transactions between citizen and society in Carn, and the novel’s style and structure expertly orchestrate randomness’s erratic rhythms. Because the four central characters are unable to channel the energy of randomness, they become vulnerable to it. In Carn, McCabe brings to the fore issues of identity, self-determination and quality of consciousness. He is not the first writer of Irish fiction to do so, but, through his quartet of central characters, McCabe gives these issues new life. Sadie, Benny, Pat and Josie are comparative newcomers to Irish fiction. Changing Ireland’s new citizenry, they come across as lumpen provincials, neither urban nor rural, proletarian nor peasant, national nor international, Catholic nor otherwise. Thrust into a capitalist culture that they neither asked for nor can resist, they end up - if they’re lucky- lodged uncertainly somewhere between a carnival and a cairn, with very little in the way of moral resource or psychological sophistication to sustain them. They are the less stagy and less clannish country cousins of Roddy Doyle’s celebrated Rabbitte family. They are close to James Kelman’s demoralised Glaswegians but don’t have the solidarity of Kelman’s rant to see them through. First published in England in 1989, Carn is the author’s second novel, and sometimes it shows. The tone veers uncertainly from satire to melodrama. Its use of - in effect - four protagonists proves understandably awkward and makes the novel rather less well-focused than the remarkable The Butcher Boy, his third novel. It was disappointing that Cooney, the capitalist who gives the novel such a strong early impetus, is allowed to drop out of sight rather too casually. But what matters is the author’s unflinching and sympathetic attention to his hapless characters and their environment. Carn is a notable and worthwhile novel. It confirms Patrick McCabe as one of the more significant contemporary Irish novelists.’ (Copied to Electronic Irish List [Virginia Tech.], 3 Feb. 1997.) See also George O’Brien, review of Breakfast on Pluto (1998), in The Irish Times (30 May 1998), [q.p.]: ‘one of the more challenging and intriguing imaginations in Irish fiction today.’

[ top ]

Patrick Brennan, ‘From Britpop to Yeatspop’, Irish Times (7 Feb. 1997), [q.p.]: ‘Gavin Friday is currently preparing a trip-hop interpretation of Patrick McCabe’s short story, which was in turn inspired by Friday’s Shag Tobacco album. After the experiment with McCabe, he’s off to take part in a project of jazz musician and producer, Hal Wilner’s that will set different soundscapes to Edgar Allen Poe’s poems and short stories. Then it’s on to a one-man musical extravaganza of the life and work of his hero, Oscar Wilde. Far from being a once- off phenomenon, Friday is convinced that literary/musical collaborations of wouldn’t they? But what would W. B. Yeats make of the new CD of his poems set to music, “Now And In Time To Be,” which features artists like Elvis Costello, Sinead Lohan, Shane MacGowan and Loreena Mc Kennitt. Writer, avid student of Anglo-Irish literature and regular presenter of BBC Radio 3’s excellent “The Sunday Feature” series [...]’ (Copied in Irish List, Virginia; see also note on Gavin Friday, infra.)

Alan Riding, ‘Challenging Ireland’s Demons With a Laugh’, in New York Times (29 March 1998), [q.p.]; ‘[…] At first glance, of course, the story of Francie, played by Eamonn Owens, is anything but uplifting. His father, Benny (Stephen Rea), is a drunk, while Ma Brady (Aisling O’Sullivan) is sliding toward madness. But Francie and his best friend, Joe (Alan Boyle), live in their own fantasy world fed by comic books, television films and news broadcasts about the Cuban missile crisis, a world in which Francie walks tall, indifferent to gossip about his dysfunctional family. Indifferent, that is, until his pompous neighbor, Mrs. Nugent (Fiona Shaw), pronounces Benny Brady ‘no better than a pig.’ And with that, in the name of the Pig Family, Francie declares war on Mrs. Nugent and her geeky son, Phillip (Andrew Fullerton)./ His first reprisal is to climb into Mrs. Nugent’s home and write “Phillip Is a Pig” in lipstick on a wall, a gesture that promptly earns him a stint in a reform school run by Roman Catholic priests. There he finds solace in visions of a sensual-looking Virgin Mary (Sinead O’Connor) and earns privileges by dressing up in girls’ clothes to please one of the fathers. When he is finally released, his mother has died, Joe has gone off to boarding school - with Phillip Nugent no less - and Francie is forced to work in a slaughterhouse. He tries to remain upbeat, but then his father dies and he is alone. Blaming Mrs. Nugent for his troubles, Francie retreats further into his fantasy world until the logic of one final act of revenge against his nemesis seems irrefutable.’ / ‘It is totally autobiographical in its mood,’ said Mr. McCabe, 43, who set his story in Clones in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland, where he was born and lived until he was 17 and where most of the film was shot. ‘The actual incidents are, of course, not autobiographical at all’. [see further under Neil Jordan, q.v.]

Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction (London: Pluto Press 1997): ‘Francie has not been able to experience the gradual separation form her [his mother] that would allow him to mature emotioinally and psychologically. This leaves him to stranded at a particularly susceptible age between childhood and adolescence, but still fundamentally in thrall to the image of his mother.’ (p.82; quoted in Aveen McManus, “Narratives of Childhood - A Comparative Study”, MA Diss., Univ. of Ulster 2005, p.61.)

Shirley Kelly, ‘A lad I used to know around with …’, interview with Patrick McCabe, in Books Ireland (May 1998), pp.117-18. Of Breakfast on Pluto, McCabe says: The book is about borders ... gender borders, and there’s a lot of confusion in the seventies there. The music of Dusty Springfield was also an important inspiration - you can just imagine this young boy belting out a Dusty Springfield number - and Gavin Friday’s album Shag Tobacco was another important influence.’ (p.117.) Title from Don Partridge song; on gestation of The Butcher Boy: ‘“It started off with a feeling of yearning that I remembered as a kid,” McCabe says. “There was a lad I used to knock around with, we used to swap comics all the time, I was up and down to his house every day. But one day I went down and his mother said they were moving to Dublin, and I just couldn’t take it in, I flipped. Then I heard this song, “The Butcher Boy” about a woman hanging herself, and I suppose I was still harbouring this sense of loss because I identified with it. The murder itself was based on a real-life murder which took place in Clones in 1904, when one guy butchers another aand buried him under a pile of manure, where he lay undiscovered for nine months.’ (idem.) ‘I found that novel [breakfast] very exacting and quite disturbing to write at times. It’s probably the last book I’ll write in that style. [...] there are other stories to write; there comes point when you actually start to parody yourself. I’m working on two books of short stories, at the moment and that’s a breeze.’ (p.118.) ‘I’d be very reluctant to get involved in film-making. I like writing prose because you’re left to get on with it … with fiction the audience is more loyal, whereas in cinema it’s changing all the time [.. &c.]’.

[ top ]

John Kenny, interview with Pat McCabe, in Irish Times (16 May 1998), [q.p.]. McCabe discusses his transition from showband music to writing: ‘I thought to myself: well, it’s going to be a toss-up between this and writing. And if it’s going to be writing, I just can’t live at this pace. And so I made my decision then.’ ‘I believe good writing comes from ordinary mundane domestic stuff and not from any of this Beatnik stuff at all. And anyway I wasn’t good enough to be a proper musician.’ [On vernacular speech]: ‘It’s like technicolour speech. I always used to wonder how you could meet a guy in a bar that had you enthralled talking in the vernacular and yet when you go to read a novel you don’t find any of it at all. You’re suddenly into this detached stuff and I never was comfortable with that. It might suit different cultures or whatever but I always found it kind of imperialist. Here you have some snooty writer stealing other peoples’ stories and not acknowledging them. / At least if you employ the vernacular of your mother or your father or your neighbours, there’s an acknowledegment there. Ulysses was the most democratic work of fiction in that it took an ordinary unspectacular man walking around Dublin whose thoughts like everybody’s, were a mishmash of gravitas and frivolity. Of course Virginia Woolf and these people were affronted by it because they were essentially class-based.’ Breakfast on Pluto is full of “the sordid, squelchy details of the life that was once lived by darling Patrick Braden”. [Cont.]

John Kenny, interview with Pat McCabe (Irish Times, 16 May 1998), cont.: McCabe on disturbing effect of the new novel: ‘Yes, that should be the way it affects people because that is the period I’m talking about. It was a period of not knowing where you belonged. Ireland didn’t know where it belonged in the world and that was part of that time. Ireland North and South was on the cusp of great promise and utter disaster and civil war was lurching forward and pulling back all the time. And so it’s like a death in the family - you forget about it momentarily and suddenly you remember again. So yes, it was very much the period, as I remembered it, that dictated the style of the book. Also, in The Butcher Boy the child’s wonder keeps you going - the relentless optimism. But adolescence is a different kettle of fish altogether because your mind is more complex and you don’t believe as much any more in the possibility of redemption and you hate and you rage. It’s a boiling vat of emotions and so it was a much more difficult book to write. I wanted it to be really short too, like a grenade. When you hit the 1970s, that’s when the sinister sub-text starts to kick in. But it’s not just about an androgynous kid, it’s about ambivalence and borders and it’s very political I think. The song Breakfast on Pluto, which has a lovely, jaunty, lyrical, childhood feel to it became a counterpoint to a kind of a suppurating underbelly.’ [Cont.]

McCabe on the preoccupations of the new novel and the strains upon the author: ‘It’s as far as I can go, I think. But at the same time, if you start something you should finish it and there’s no point in getting coy or afraid. But no, it doesn’t do you any good and I’m dropping novel writing for a while. I think Martin Amis said that you’re never really there when you’re writing a novel, you are always somewhere else - you’re walking through a park with your kids and you’re thinking about this trisexual dude in your book. But at the same time, as with Method acting, you know you’re going to pull out of it. Initially it can be a bit scary but funny enough, when I wrote The Butcher Boy I thought it was really funny. I mean, I liked the guy!’ [Cont.]

McCabe on the potential of a writing for a movie-transfer: ‘I’m so preoccupied with language that I really couldn’t be bothered trying to second-guess it on the screen. It’s never in my mind at all. I have to be totally faithful to the job in hand and collaborative stuff doesn’t interest me in the slightest. But if it happens, it happens. / It’s so obsessive with me. It’s just - how do I get to the end of this story? And I just follow it along like a lapdog wherever it leads. I never plan anything because it’s not an interesting journey for me- then. You know the one Graham Greene has about it? “Let the horse run free and let it find its own way home”’. On the notion of success: ‘If it looks like nosing in the door, you have to make a decision very early, to shut it down straight away. think you have to make that very clear to yourself and around The Butcher Boy time I had a feeling that it was happening. But it can all walk away very quickly too any writer who has been rejected - as a writer should be - knows that. You never take anything granted because you never know whether a novel is going to be delivered to you or not. I would never be cocky. I’d be deeply in cure about it in fact, and I think that’s part of the game. / One of the most interesting men I ever met was Pinter and [he] was full of that uncertainty. E[ven] then you do get a great sense satisfaction out of being true to the muse or whatever you might call it. By the time the last full stop is put down you say “well, that’s the best I could do, I done it to the best of my ability and I didn’t flinch from it” - and that leaves you with a nice feeling. But as for success - you know, what Friel said about it, it’s only the postponement of failure.’

[ top ]

Ruth Scurr, ‘Transvestite Troubles’, review of Breakfast on Pluto, in Times Literary Supplement (29 May 1998), p.25; quotes extensively in characterising Patrick Braden’s relations with his father the parish priest of Tyreelin (‘Fr. Bernard rides Again’); encroachment of 1916 commemorations; Northern Ireland troubles and bombs; arrested as suspected bomber, 1974; his friend Irwin killed by IRA for informing; reviewer regards overtly political references as a distraction from the interest of watching a psyche degenerate; title from Don Partridge hit of 1969; rejects comparison with Dennis Potter; most pretentious and least successful novel.

John Dunne, review of Breakfast on Pluto, in Books Ireland (Sept. 1998); ‘Whether you view the whole shebang as an over-the-top excursion into the realms of camp, one man’s desperate search for love, [a] shocking descent into the moral squalor of terrorism, masterclass in flamboyant prose, even, God forbid, another stone to throw at the clergy, no-one will every be able to accuse you of misinterpretation, because Breakfast on Pluto … is that rare and very welcome beast a novel that refuses to lie down in the middle of the road’; also notes how the novel engages with rock music. (p.212.)

[See also Pete Bradford, review of Breakfast On Pluto [film], in The Guardian (31 Jan. 2006) - as attached.]

Martyn Bedford, ‘Satire Rebounds’, review of Mondo Desperado, in Literary Review (Sept. 1999), pp.50-51: stories, persona of Phildy Hackball of Barntrosna town; barely mustered a smile from first page to last; here the style is nude-and-a-wink irony, and the wryly jocular tone is that of a man too amused at his own smartness.’ (p.50); ‘stepped out naked into the flashbulb glare of deferential congratulation.’ (p.51).

Joe Jackson, ‘When Love Hurts’, interview with Patrick McCabe, in The Irish Times (3 June 2000), Weekend: detects ‘the pain that sits at the centre of his best writing’ in the man himself, and quotes his one-time admission of acute awareness of ‘the random and inexplicable nature of death’; quotes, ‘It’s all me ... Love Story is about the first time I fell in love. It’s all real stuff. And it’s nice to be honest about that. I am 45 and married, with two daughters. But to talk to a woman, in 1972, in the Sports Centre in Cavan was an excruciating experience.’; Why? ‘May because this was a small country, trying to find its own identity in the face of British oppression. I’m not even going to suggest it was just the Catholic Church. But what other way could it have been? You were a tenant in your own county. You had two oppressors. One, the Catholic Church; the other, the British thing.’ Surely there were many who didn’t feel oppressed? ‘Who where these people? Even if they were from Dublin, they had the same problems. They might have been a little more urbane, but when they went ot London, they were as shamefaced and as red-faced as the rest of us who came from the bog-arse of Monaghan.’ On the oedipal relationship in Love Story: ‘Let me put it this way. There was this fella, down Greece way, sometime before the birth of Christ and he wrote Oedipus Rex. Do you think it changes? I don’t. A man wants to murder his father and ride his mother. It doesn’t mater whether it’s Ireland or Greece.’

Joe Jackson, ‘When Love Hurts’, in The Irish Times (Weekend, 3 June 2000) - McCabe: ‘[…] I’m not attracted to taboo subjects, as such I’m attracted to the truth [...] And I really don’t think those fundamentals change. We can put a veneer over it but. whether it is in the work of Jim Thompson or Sophocles, there are some primal things that are scary. I’m not setting myself up as someone who talks about why a man might have a difficulty with his mother. But I am deeply interested in the primal impulse that moves me. It’s denial that screws people up. And I’m a damaged-goods person, I admit.’ Further discusses confusion of love-object in popular lyrics]; quotes: ‘Yet the beauty of fiction is that it’s about the whole human race. It’s not about a particular hurt. So, to answer your earlier qustion, yes. I’m talking about my own pain but I’m also tapping into archetypes.’ Further discussion of Emerald Germs and the centrality of music to his writing. [End notice states that McCabe will appear with Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer on Under the Influence, next Saturday, RTE 1; Emerald Germs to be broadcast at 11.a.m. throughout July and Aug.; stories of the same name to appear in Autumn.

Derek Hand, ‘Grimy Times in Gullytown’, review of Emerald Germs of Ireland (Picador), in The Irish Times (13 Jan. 2001). The novel concerns Pat McNab, serial killer. ‘[T]he emphasis is purely on comedy and entertainment.’ Further, ‘trade-mark high-octane style … very much on display’; ‘What was utterly original and highy innovative in the past has become, sadly, somewhat tired and limp now’; ‘McCabe’s unique literary perspecgtive, with its stress on voice and accent along with his musical obsessions, are perfectly adaptable to … radio. However … the episodic nature of a half-hour radio drama does not translate very well into the novel form.’

[ top ]

Tom Gilling, review of Emerald Germs (HarperCollins 2001), in NY Review of Books (q.d.), remarks that ‘cod Irish dialogue in the vein of Flann O’Brien’ (viz., ‘Bejabers now make sure and mind me corns!’) gives these blackly comic episodes a silly if rather specious vitality.’ Further, ‘But this is constantly undercut by the narrator’s own deranged verbosity: “Initially, haste as regards the replenishment of the tundish’s contents was not a major concern of Pat’s, but this was not to last, and within a mater of mere minutes, the dazzling array of bottles - such a stupendous catalogue of disparate brands: Johnnie Walker, Glenfiddich, Grouse, Bell’s and Paddy of course! - were being utilised to form what was a veritable amber whirlpool which was subsumed with speed-of-light rapidity into the system of the prone and inert - however wide-eyed - Mrs. Tubridy.’ /. The effect of such passages is to further unsettle a narrative that is already buckling under its load of irony and interpolation.’ In conclusion, Gilling quotes: ‘McNab’s hapless victims to mind their own business’ with the acerbic comment, ‘McCabe make us wish they’d tried harder’.

Robert MacFarlane, reviewing of Patrick McCabe, Emerald Germs of Ireland (Picador), 380pp., in Times Literary Supplement (19 Jan. 2001), writes: ‘we usually experience Patrick McCabe’s fictional worlds through a single, skewed consciousness’; ‘Francie Brady memorably voice-overed his own murderous disintegration … Patrick “Pussy” Breaden vave a camp, twittery account of life as a 1970s rent-boy, glamour monkey and transvestite’; in McCabe’s new work, ‘Pat McNab is a ‘Hamlet-quoting serial killer and long-term inhabitant of Gullytown, a “bog-arse” village somewhere in southern Ireland [whose] misdemeanours .. include matricide, parricide, multiple zooicide and a plethor of plain old homicides’; ‘none of the gallows humour which lit [up] the Butcher Boy’s darkness, nor indeed any of its darkness’; ‘its 14 chaps. orginally broadcast as individual radio plays [...] revamped into prose fiction; ‘no variation in the song-plus-murder formula of the first chapter’; McCabe identityed Emerald Germs in interview as his ‘primal scream’.
Further: ‘A man wants to murder his father and ride his mother’; reviewer comments, ‘That’s as may be, but the treatment which that particular archetype receives here is too personalised to make a good work of fiction [...] McCabe has walled himself into the subgenre of Irish psychotica which he so brilliantly created in The Butcher Boy.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 19 Jan 2001, p23.)

Arminta Wallace, ‘Madness? There is Methodism in it: Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer [of the Virgin Prunes] mixing music and religion’, interview article, in The Irish Times (16 June 2000): deals with with the musicians who perform in Pat McCabe’s Emerald Germs on RTÉ Radio 1 (Sat. 1 July 2000, 11.02 a.m.)

Aisling Foster, ‘Germs, Madness and Murder’, in The Guardian (17 Jan. 2001): ‘His neighbours dismiss him as “a complete and utter oddity”, but if you’re a Patrick McCabe fan you’ll recognise the main character of his latest novel. Pat has been around since The Butcher Boy as abused son, bullied schoolboy, village scarecrow or anarchist, the bright-enough child beaten into the darkness of his own bent imagination by the cruelty of dysfunctional parents and an uncaring community. You’ll recognise versions of the brutish father, too, and a mother whose violent emotions swoop between sentimentality and hate. If, like the author, you grew up in an Ireland struggling between De Valera’s old, anti-materialist ideals and the bright promises of the modern world, you’ll remember quaint publications like Emerald Gems of Ireland. Through the late 1950s and 1960s, their blurry newsprint lined up beside the shiny new titles of the day to recall the disappearing songs and stories of some kinder age. Cleverly, McCabe has fitted his novel into that faded literary frame, so rendering his sudden passages of gore and mayhem all the more colourful when they appear. Pat McNab is an innocent, pulled back and forth between those extremes of old and new Ireland. Tales of his disillusionment, of sweet optimism dashed again and again by the selfishness of the real world, are strung together in unchronological order like the rough “gems” of those forgotten magazines. [...]’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, for full text, or attached.]

[ top ]

Jennifer M. Jeffers, The Irish Novel at the End of the Twentieth-Century: Gender, Bodies and Power (London: Palgrave 2002): ‘McCabe’s radical textual undecidability is made more potent by the irrelevant attitude the text has towards gender and sexual signification. By the end of the novel, McCabe has pushed our sense-making capacity into a new space. There is not - nor should - be a correct answer or a final interpretation of this slippery novel. To be sure, the undecideability of the narrative is what makes Breakfast on Pluto so compelling and offers us a different way to thing about the Irish novel.’ (p.65.)

C. L. Dallat, Here’s to Ireland, review of Call Me the Breeze, [... a tough treatise on the relationship between the artist and society], in The Guardian, 6 Sept. 2003): ‘ [...] McCabe’s epistolary method acknowledges the Victorian Irish Gothic of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but his grand-guignol imagination has roots in the primitive harshness of other 20th-century writing from the borderlands. Though our pie-eating, Mohawk-tonsured Candide is second cousin to Ignatius J Reilly of John Kennedy Toole’s New Orleans novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, the world he frequents - Doc Oc’s, The Ritzy, Lakeland Local Radio and the mobile-home site - nods rather towards the hazily indolent Florida of Thomas McGuane’s The Bushwhacked Piano. But the blistering, unmediated rawness owes still more to earlier southern (American) gothic precursors: Carson McCullers, William Faulkner and - most persistently - the Flannery O’Connor of Wise Blood / If McCabe has earned a reputation as a comically savage truth-teller about a country too often regarded with the deluded fondness of hindsight, Call Me the Breeze is his “To Ireland in the Coming Times”, and must be read, not just for its reflections on the unenviable state of the nation or a generalised despair of the human condition at large, but for sheer warped humour.’

John O’Mahony, ‘King of Bog Gothic’, in The Guardian (Sat. 30 Aug. 2003): ‘[...] McCabe strenuously denies the common criticism that his work is an attack on the ethos of small-town Ireland: “It is an assault in that I want to capture it in all its magnitude,” he says, “but it is not solely an attack. For example, with The Butcher Boy people said: ‘What have you got against this town?’ But I never suggested that there were small-town hypocrites in any of these places. I said that there are times in the book when the guy looks down on the most beautiful happy town that God ever put on this earth. The reason that I write about small towns is that I love them so much. That’s where all human experience is, on a very small canvas.” / Breakfast on Pluto 1998) was in many respects the spiritual successor to The Butcher Boy. The South Ulster protagonist chosen by the author this time couldn’t have been more outrageously marginal: a down-and-out Irish glam transvestite prostitute named Paddy “Pussy” Braden. The spectacularly pitched, preening central voice, so distant from McCabe’s own, was an even more staggering achievement, perfected, he says, by reading Colette and women’s magazines: “It’s meant to be a small hand-grenade of a book, but a burlesque as well. I remember the 70s of that time and those lurid glam-rock colours alternating between horror and frivolity.” / Overall, the book, which follows Pussy’s flight to London and his mistaken arrest in connection with a pub bombing, is a devastating challenge to the macho terrorist culture of Northern Ireland: “McCabe’s latest may be the most successful book yet to be born out of violence,” concluded the New York Times Book Review. “The underlying grief resonates deeply and personally, transforming what could have been a literary trifle into an obsessive gift, from a man who may be one of Ireland’s finest living writers.” [... &c. see full version online; accessed 16.11.2004 & 16.03.2011.]

John Kenny, ‘If you go down to the woods today ...’, review of Patrick McCabe, Winterwood, in The Irish Times (21 Oct. 2006), Weekend: ‘[...] The genius of McCabe is that far from allowing himself or his chief characters to wallow in the idea of an empty existential homeless wasteland, he has always attuned his prose to the socio-cultural particularities of 20th- and 21st-century Ireland . His splicing of psychiatric interest and national interest is seamless. / With Winterwood, he moves into the darkest of our interiors through a narrator named Redmond Hatch, a regional journalist writing articles on "folklore and changing ways in Ireland" who befriends a local character and fiddler, Pappie Strange, who in turn emerges in McCabe’s hands as a powerful bogeyman figuration for the stories of domestic violence and abuse that have come to the surface here over the past couple of decades. The novel is astonishingly brave in its treatment of paedophilia, and only McCabe could do this in a way that simultaneously accommodates readers who are puzzled and repulsed by the awful human specificity of crimes against children and readers who would equally subscribe to the notion of pure transcendent evil. / As ever with McCabe, all readers will have to make up their own minds about the dependability of Hatch as a narrator since the novel is not so much about events that have, for the purposes of the story, verifiably happened or not but about a psychic state that is damaged beyond its own recognition, in this case by horrors both suffered and in turn perpetrated. [...]’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, for full text, or attached.)

[ top ]

Irvine Welsh, ‘The Man from the Mountains’, review of Winterwood, in The Guardian (4 Nov. 2006): ‘Big changes need bold writers to engage with them, and McCabe has never been shy about kicking away the stones to see what comes crawling out. His new novel, Winterwood, a sustained achievement of often dazzling brilliance, examines the old versus new Ireland conflict. This has been successfully attempted before, not least by McCabe himself, but arguably never pulled off with such enlightenment and finesse as within these pages./ The protagonist of the book is Redmond Hatch, a shape-shifting monster who, like most of them, is all too human. Shape-shifting has been prominent in Celtic mythology, more Welsh than Irish in its associations, though Aoife’s stepchildren, the Children of Lir, were turned into swans in order to banish them (a tale recounted by the Irish folklorist Lady Augusta Gregory). Hatch hails from the Midland mountains of Ireland, and it’s he who narrates Winterwood. Over the years we see this mountain boy move adroitly between the depressed margins of Irish and London-Irish society and the status and acclaim of Dublin’s professional media classes. These transitions are always difficult for a writer to achieve convincingly, but McCabe does it seamlessly, rendering Hatch all the more sinister in the process.’ [Cont.]

Irvine Welsh, ‘The Man from the Mountains’ (The Guardian, 4 Nov. 2006): ‘One of the things McCabe particularly excels at is evoking the quiet, mordant desperation behind the gung-ho positivism of the “craic is mighty” brigade, that coping mechanism of Ireland and the Irish diaspora over the decades of economic and social hardship. Thus McCabe’s sly, good old country boys are scarier than the city hardmen, their homespun joviality often on the edge of lurching into a blood-simple, reductivist cruelty./ They don’t come any creepier than Pappie Strange [...]’ ‘Winterwood is at least as good (and as disturbing) as The Butcher Boy, and probably glows with an even greater social resonance. In charting the journey from the horrible silence of the paedophile priests and rural poverty into an economically booming, multi-ethnic society, McCabe has written a brilliant and disturbing profile of an individual and a place in often violent transition. In the process, he’s also raised the bar for the contemporary Irish novel; which, in a country such as Ireland, where good writers often seem as commonplace as pigeons, constitutes no small achievement. [...]’ Welsh relates that Hatch, the central character, is made the object of a barring order sought by his wife to prevent him from seeing their child. (See also under Quotations, infra.)

Rosalind Porter, ‘Patrick McCabe: Interview’, in Time Out London (9 Nov. 2006): ‘What happens on the level of plot in Winterwood is fairly straightforward. Redmond Hatch is a journalist from Slievenageeha Mountain, Ireland, who pens a series of articles about old valley traditions, focusing on mountain man Ned Strange - ‘the happy-go-lucky fellow with the freckles who was forever singing’ and who embodies a culture under threat of extinction. Like many of McCabe’s characters, Strange is a bit dodgy. His hyperbolic “auld stories” seem too unreal for the modern imagination and there is something sinister about his mythic love for his dead wife. As we follow Hatch through two failed marriages and a variety of jobs, we see him come to identify with Strange in a manner that unleashes an infatuation with his first wife and estranged daughter. / What happens beneath the surface is more complex, as characters take on the roles of other characters and become archetypes in a story that unfolds like a morality play. ‘It’s a very traditional narrative,’ McCabe says. ‘Everything’s been done before. Whatever the ins and outs, there’s nothing new - at all.’ Quotes from Winterwood: ‘If you look at some of the old cowboy songs that started out as kind of campfire ballads [...; &c., as supra]’ (See online; accessed 28.04.2007.)

Irvine Welch, ‘The Man from the Mountains’. in The Guardian (4 Nov. 2006): ‘[...] Big changes need bold writers to engage with them, and McCabe has never been shy about kicking away the stones to see what comes crawling out. His new novel, Winterwood, a sustained achievement of often dazzling brilliance, examines the old versus new Ireland conflict. This has been successfully attempted before, not least by McCabe himself, but arguably never pulled off with such enlightenment and finesse as within these pages. / The protagonist of the book is Redmond Hatch, a shape-shifting monster who, like most of them, is all too human. [...] There are problems inherent in dealing with both a shape-shifter and an unreliable narrator. How literally or metaphorically should we take these transformations, and which elements are we to believe and which are we to discard from the troubled Hatch’s tale? The strength of this book is that the quality of the writing largely circumvents any such difficulties, allowing the story to work on several levels. / [...] The book’s pages take on a disquieting and malign hue as we realise that Hatch is not what he seems. Yet the sinuous but often understated prose delights, even as it unravels the narrator’s chilling duality. / [...] Winterwood is at least as good (and as disturbing) as The Butcher Boy, and probably glows with an even greater social resonance. In charting the journey from the horrible silence of the paedophile priests and rural poverty into an economically booming, multi-ethnic society, McCabe has written a brilliant and disturbing profile of an individual and a place in often violent transition. In the process, he’s also raised the bar for the contemporary Irish novel; which, in a country such as Ireland, where good writers often seem as commonplace as pigeons, constitutes no small achievement. But he’s done far more even than that. Winterwood is that rarest thing: a novel dealing with humanity at its most twisted and bleak, but one that leaves the reader feeling curiously uplifted. And that’s because we realise that we’ve been standing in an illuminating beam whose source is, and can only be, truly great art.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, for full text, or attached.)

[ top ]