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Literature / The Butcher Boy

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"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"

The Butcher Boy is a 1992 novel by Patrick McCabe. Set in a small town in Ireland in the early 1960s, it tells the story of Francie Brady, a delusional boy who retreats into a violent fantasy world as his troubled home life collapses.

The novel won the 1992 Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for Fiction and was short-listed for the 1992 Booker Prize.

A film adaptation was made in 1997, starring Eamonn Owens (as the title character), Stephen Rea and Fiona Shaw. Sinéad O'Connor cameos as the Virgin Mary.


Tropes in this novel:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: The Brady family are seen as this for how dysfunctional they are.
  • Alpha Bitch: Mrs Nugent, who is a jerkass neighbor who looks down on the Bradys and once mocked them comparing them to pigs.
  • Animal Motifs: Pigs.
  • Asshole Victim: Played with. Francie sees Phillip Nugent as one, but the reader never actually sees him acting like an asshole. Francie is something of an Unreliable Narrator, has an irrational hatred towards the Nugents and tends to spin all of Phillip's friendliness as smarmy douchebaggery.
    • Played straight with the snobby and judgemental Mrs Nugent.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Francie accuses Mrs Nugent on being this.
    "I was thinking how right ma was. Mrs Nugent all smiles when she met us and how are you getting on Mrs and young Francis are you both well?...what she was really saying was: Ah hello Mrs Pig how are you and look Philip do you see what's coming now...The Pig Family!"
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the film adaptation a much older Francie is released from the psychiatric hospital at the end to be brought to a halfway house, where he seems to have regained his sanity at last. He has one last conversation with the Virgin Mary, who gives him a snowdrop, like the one he picked at the beginning of the film.
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  • Black Comedy
  • The Cameo: Sinéad O'Connor, as the Virgin Mary. Ironic, considering her views on religion.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Francie is quite mischievous and delusional and unaware of the world around him.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Joe is this to Francie, calling him out everytime his pranks go too far. Eventually he gets fed up with how psychotic Francie is becoming and leaves him.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Francie kills Mrs Nugent with the butcher gun in the head, then he chops her up and writes “PIG” in rooms upstairs with her insides.
  • Dissonant Serenity: As his sanity slips with each chapter, Francie is disturbingly chirpy and cheerful. His playful pranks begin to advance into more destructive and menacing behavior. It concludes with him killing Mrs Nugent.
  • Downer Ending: Francie loses his remaining sanity after Joe distances from him. He brutally kills Mrs Nugent with a bolt gun, dismembering her corpse. He's captured and sent to a mental hospital where he writes memoirs about the murder and he attempts to forge a friendship with an inmate similar to the one he had with Joe. The film adaptation has a more positive ending, with him regaining his sanity years later.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Benny is a bitter and abusive alcoholic.
  • Driven to Suicide: Francie's mother after he briefly runs away.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Francie's family. His mother is frequently abused both verbally and physically by her husband, a bitter alcoholic, and often considers committing suicide. Of course, Francie is oblivious to this and claims that his mother is "in the garage".
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Francie's reaction after finding out that Joe befriended Philip.
  • Foreshadowing: The fact that Francie works as a butcher boy and cuts up pig carcasses foreshadows the way he kills Mrs Nugent in the finale.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The actual reason for Francie's hatred toward the Nugents.
  • Improvised Weapon: Francie kills Mrs Nugent with a butcher's bolt gun, no less!
  • Irrational Hatred: Francie develops one towards the Nugents, blaming them (especially Mrs Nugent) for every bad things that happens in his life. It's implied he's actually jealous of them for being a happy and stable family, something the Bradys will never be.
  • Lemony Narrator: The film has a bizarre sarcastic narrator, snarking at Francie's misadventures and encouraging him to do bad things (like in the defecating scene). He also amuses himself by insulting the characters, especially the adult characters and Mrs Nugent. It's later revealed the narrator is adult Francie.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Joe is this to Francie, especially in the film. When Joe get's fed up with Francie's increasing psychotic behavior and becomes friends with Phillip, he snaps.
  • Longing for Fictionland: Francie loves fantasising about alien takeover, atomic apocalypse, and the Virgin Mary.
  • Mood Whiplash
  • Never My Fault: After his mother commits suicide by drowning, Francie refuses to accept that he somehow provoked it and puts the blame on the Nugents again.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: At some point Benny dies because oh his alcoholism. Francie is unaware of this (due to his increasing Sanity Slippage) and thinks he's just sleeping until the police enters his home to discover the corpse has been decomposing for a while.
  • Off with His Head!: How Mrs Nugent dies.
  • Sanity Slippage: And it gets From Bad to Worse.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Francie pretends not to notice how dysfunctional his parents are. Later he just can’t accept that his father has died because of his alcoholism and goes out of his way to convince himself that he is just sleeping a lot because he's drunk, and that the foul smell everybody complains about (and which he pretends not to notice) must be from a dead animal.
  • The '60s
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Subverted, as they do. Not that they do much ...
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Especially in the film. For example that cheerful tune after Francie defecates on the floor of the Nugent's house.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: In the film adult Francie looks just like his father, but with red hair. Both are played by Stephen Rea.
  • Tempting Fate: At the end of the film, when an older Francie comments on how he has regained his sanity and will not be up to his old shenanigans anymore, the Virgin Mary appears to him once again. He's not amused.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness
  • Villain Protagonist: By the end of the story Francie has become one.
  • Yandere: Francie's obsession with Joe as Joe begins to pull away. The obsessive desire to get their friendship back to what it used to be brings him to violence repeatedly, eventually causing him to break into the Nugent's house and smear their walls with feces, attempt to murder Phillip for stealing Joe away from him, and break into Joe's new school so he can "break him out", though Joe has no desire to leave and is afraid and disgusted of Francie himself.

Alternative Title(s): The Butchers Boy


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