Thursday, July 29, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: The Butcher Boy

The Butcher BoyThe Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If I had to put this book into a category, I would classify it with Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, only less elegantly written.

The novel starts out fairly easily, engaging the reader with promises of a dysfunctional family and schoolboy rivalries, all while the reader grows accustomed to choppy first-person style of narration. (The novel is told by the main character, an Irish schoolboy named Francie.) Gradually, suspense builds as the reader's suspicions are aroused by the odd treatment of Francie by the other people in the novel. Eventually his paranoia becomes apparent, and while the readers no longer trust Francie, we must travel through the story along with him, since his is the only viewpoint we have.

I saw in one review that this book is like a mash-up of Catcher in the Rye and A Clockwork Orange. In terms of concept and style, I agree; however, I enjoyed both of those books all the way through to their conclusions, whereas two-thirds of the way through this book, I could see where it was headed, which was into the blank incoherent abyss of madness. Unfortunately by that point I was too far into the book to put it aside, and I continued to hold out (in vain) for McCabe to recreate any feeling of suspense. This is what Ellis did better: he kept the reader waiting and wondering and fearful, not so much about what the next gruesome horror might be, but of what the outcome of that horror could be, the backlash, and if it would ever occur.

Horror for the sake of horror and insanity for the sake of insanity are gratuitous, and eventually that is how I felt about this book. By its end, I don't feel I learned any lesson, nor did I feel compassion for a single character in the novel. I didn't feel any empathy for Francie, nor did I pity any of his victims. Thus, I was left wondering what the purpose of the book was. McCabe's ability to portray Francie's descent into madness via his increasingly manic and confused narration is admirable; however, it does not automatically make for a laudable novel.

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