Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Butcher Boy

Go To

"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:

  • Abuse Discretion Shot: While staying at a boarding house, Francie Brady learns more about his dead parents as he interrogated a landlady. His father was abused as a child in an Orphanage of Fear and grew up and married Mrs. Brady and mistreats her during their honeymoon. The abuses aren't shown, but are told by the landlady.
  • 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.
  • Black Comedy
  • The Cameo: Sinéad O'Connor, as the Virgin Mary. Ironic, considering her views on religion.
  • Cool Uncle: Uncle Alo is the best relative Francie ever had, until his drunk father calls him out for being a liar.
  • 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.
  • Evil is Petty: You honestly can’t get any pettier than trying to ruin your neighbor's life simple cause he has a happier family than you.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Deconstructed and Played for Drama. Francie began taking care of his father after his mother's suicide, even after he stopped eating or moving from the corner of the room. Which is where he eventually starved to death, but Francie failed to notice and accept this thanks to his own poor mental state.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Francie's work as a butcher boy. He kills Mrs Nugent in the finale.
    • The Lemony Narrator in the film is very harsh and insulting towards Francie and Mrs Nugent. Turns out the narrator is adult Francie.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The actual reason for Francie's hatred toward the Nugents.
  • Horrible Honeymoon: Francis's parents went to a boarding house on their honeymoon before he was born. Mr. Brady also used the opportunity there to abuse her.
  • I Hate Past Me: Upon seeing his decisions from an observer's point of view, Francie eventually has little but large amounts of disdain for the choices his past self made, occasionally berating him despite knowing he can't hear. He still retains his hatred for Mrs Nugent though.
  • 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 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.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: The book's protagonist, a young Irish boy named Francis Brady, who goes into madness.
  • Mood Whiplash
  • Never My Fault: Francie tends to blame the Nugents for all the bad things going on in his life, even when they were provoked by his own bad decisions. When Joe decides to cut all ties with Francie and befriend Phillip instead, Francie deduces it's all the Nugents' fault and kills Mrs Nugent as "retribution".
  • Northern Irish and Nasty: Francie Brady lives in a small town in Northern Ireland and his parents had never really got along. He becomes jealous of his neighbors the Nugents and started doing nasty things on them. For example he stoled Phillip Nugent's comic book collection. Another time Francie broke into their house and messed it up. Then the most horrible act Francie Brady had done was he killed Mrs. Nugent for taking his best friend Joe away from him.
  • 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.
  • Precision F-Strike: The Virgin Mary, of all people, gets in one.
    Mary: For fuck's sake, Francie.
  • 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.
    Francie: No more aliens or chopping up or any of that old shite. If anyone thought Francie Brady was getting in trouble again, they're wrong. Trouble, no thank you. So there it is, Francie Brady, butcher boy, the end.
    *cut to the Virgin Mary appearing*
    Francie: Oh fuck, oh Mother of Jesus.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness
  • Villain Protagonist: By the end of the story Francie has become one.
  • Yandere: Francie's obsession with Joe as he 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. Rather than confront his own actions, Francie blames Mrs Nugent for the whole thing and kills her.

Alternative Title(s): The Butchers Boy