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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, because they are dysfunctional.
  • Alpha Bitch: Mrs Nugent, who is a jerkass neighbor who thinks she is superior to the Bradys and thinks of them as pigs.
  • Animal Motifs: Pigs.
  • Asshole Victim: Mrs Nugent, a snobby and judgemental woman, is horribly killed and butchered by Francie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In both the book and the film adaptation.
    • In the book, Francie, still delusional, is sent to a mental hospital where he writes memoirs about how he killed Mrs Nugent and he attempts to forge a friendship with an inmate similar to the one he had with Joe.
    • In the film, 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 matured.
  • Black Comedy
  • Cain and Abel: Francie's father Benny and his brother Alo.
  • The Cameo: Sinéad O'Connor, as the Virgin Mary. Ironic, considering her views on religion.
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  • Cloudcuckoolander: Francie is quite mischievous and delusional and unaware of the world around him.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Joe was this to Francie until he got fed with it.
  • 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.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: This is what kills Francie's father in the end. Francie is oblivious to this and the readers only find out when the police finds his rotten corpse.
  • 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: Not that he ever accepts it, but Francie is jealous of the Nugents because they are a happy and stable family.
  • Hypocrite: 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!"
  • Improvised Weapon: Francie kills Mrs Nugent with a butcher's bolt gun, no less!
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Joe is this to Francie, especially in the film. When Joe matures and befriends Philip Nugent, cutting all ties with Francie, 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, especially Mrs Nugent.
  • Off with His Head!: Mrs Nugent.
  • Sanity Slippage: And it gets From Bad to Worse.
  • 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.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior
  • Unreliable Narrator: It's Francie after all ...
  • 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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