Patrick McCabe

The Butcher Boy

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The Butcher Boy Summary

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In The Butcher Boy, Patrick McCabe, himself born in the small town of Clones in Ireland’s County Monahan, crafts a disturbing portrait of a young killer’s descent into madness in a small town in Ireland. The story is based on a gruesome news story that McCabe heard as a radio drama when he was only eight years old. Published in 1992, the novel was subsequently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well as the Bram Stoker Award.

A young boy Francie Brady is being hunted for what he has done to Mrs. Nugent. The novel is written from the perspective of Francie, giving the reader an intimate look into the mind of a twisted killer with a powerful and even sometimes humorous voice. McCabe succeeds in rendering a realistic and believable protagonist and, instead of allowing the novel to devolve into gaudy horror, provides the reader with a complex character study. As the novel unfolds, the reader gradually comes to understand the fateful event that has taken place as well as the inner workings of Francie’s mind.

The inciting incident occurs when Francie and Joe play a prank on the new kid in school who also happens to be Mrs. Nugent’s son, Philip. The boys are not at all impressed by the fact that Philip has attended a private school in England, but they are rather envious of his comic book collection. Joe and Francie create a ruse to obtain the collection for themselves. When Mrs. Nugent finds out what has happened, she is livid and pays a visit to Francie’s home to let him know what she thinks of him.

Francie, the child of dysfunctional parents, is devastated when Mrs. Nugent refers to him and his family as pigs, mainly because he suspects she may be right; this shakes him to his core. To him, it feels like the beginning of the end of his life.

What makes it worse is that Francie sometimes fantasizes about taking Philip’s place, having Mrs. Nugent and her husband as his parents. Francie’s father is an abusive alcoholic, and his mother has a host of mental health problems and an obsession with suicide, even making a halfhearted attempt after the departure of Mrs. Nugent. She is once again sent away to spend time in an asylum, which Francie attempts to joke about to cover up the immense pain it causes him. From here on out, a chain of events is set in motion, culminating in great tragedy.

After a vicious beating from his mother and an ill-fated visit from his uncle Alo that all but confirms Francie’s suspicions that his family his hopeless, he runs away to Dublin. Soon after he arrives, he is overcome with guilt and decides to make his way back home. On the way, he buys a gift for his mother, a plaque that reads “a mother’s love is a blessing.” However, when Francie returns home, he learns that his mother has drowned herself. His father, drunk and distraught, blames Francie for his mother’s death.

Overcome with grief and unable to accept the blame for his mother’s death, Francie transfers it to Mrs. Nugent, convincing himself that it is all her fault. He begins his retaliation against her until he is caught out and sent to a school run by priests. Soon after, Francie learns that his father has died as well.

Francie overhears Joe telling someone that the two are no longer friends. He is shattered to find that his friend Joe has turned his back on him and has replaced him with Philip. Francie has come to rely on Joe as a source of emotional support. This loss is the last straw for Francie and what he perceives as the ultimate betrayal. His mind is now set on exacting his revenge on Mrs. Nugent whom he believes is responsible for the unraveling of his life.

McCabe paints a graphic scene in which Francie kills Mrs. Nugent. The method he employs is compared to butchering a pig. After he has taken his revenge, Francie still feels hopeless, realizing that his life will play out just like that of his miserable parents.

After his actions against Mrs. Nugent, Francie turns himself in to the police and says he is ready to hang for what he has done. To his dismay, the police sergeant informs him that they no longer hang people in Ireland. Francie learns that he will be confined to an institution for the rest of his life. The story is told in retrospect from where he sits in the institution, contemplating the actions that resulted in his being locked up forever.