The Butcher Boy — Patrick McCabe

I’ve been told the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is that the psychopath doesn’t know when he’s doing wrong, and the sociopath knows and doesn’t care. The psychopath believes in something outside him that pushes him to do what he’s doing, and the sociopath is only interested in self-service.

I can’t decided if Francie is a psychopath or not.  I do know some seriously bad things happened to him when he was young, and that he grew up to be a raging delusional paranoid  schizophrenic.  But the things he did? Was he lucid when he did them? At least some of them.  But I also think that his delusions drove him to some of his more horrendous acts. In the end, I think we can reject the premise that he is nothing more than a sociopathic personality.

In a couple of reviews for The Butcher Boy we have: “…A potent amalgam of comedy, horror and pathos..” “…Loony, scary and absolutely hilarious..” and “…So very funny as well as being heartrendingly sad..”  There’s no comedy, it’s not funny, and it’s certainly not hilarious.  Not even close.

The Butcher Boy
I’ll admit that I am not overly familiar with what’s known as Irish Black Humor, but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t fall into that category.  I believe there are a multitude of references to historically unique Irish society, including the town drunk, meddling neighbors and Catholicism in all of its social roles.  But Patrick McCabe does not deal with these in a frivolous manner.

This is Francis Brady’s first person account of the breakdown of his family: the dysfunction of rape, possibly incest; his mother’s suicide and his father’s alcoholism.  Seen through the eyes of a child, who escapes into his own mind to prevent being overwhelmed by each tragedy.  He and his family have become social outcasts, and as cruel as children can be, adults can be much crueler because what they say MUST be true, for they are adults aren’t they?

As Francie loses the ability to distinguish between reality and his mental projections, his external world continues to disintegrate.  He loses his best friend after he’s sent to a Catholic boy’s school, and then treated as a non-entity when he returns.At this point his ability to function in society is precarious at best, and he retreats more and more frequently into a world where he can right any slight against him.

He longs for those days when things were straightforward and he and his best friend were able to do as they pleased.In the end, before the end (and you’ll understand if you read the novel), he tries to atone for the horror he has wrought.  But even that is not given to him as a respite from his internal torment. The final ending, leaves you to choose what that final indignity he must endure might be.