- Francie Pig vs. the Fat GreenBlob from Outer Space:Horror Films and The Butcher Boy
Patrick McCabe (b. 1955) is one of Ireland's most prolific contemporary writers; since his 1985 children's book The Adventures of Shay Mouse, he has published seven novels and a short story collection. Though his first three publications met with little critical response, his 1992 novel The Butcher Boy is now routinely discussed alongside The Catcher in the Rye and The Lord of the Flies as one of the preeminent twentieth-century novels of adolescent delinquency. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Irish Times-Aer Lingus Literature Prize for Fiction in 1992. In its wake McCabe has, in an extremely short span, become one of the high princes of contemporary Irish literature. The New York Times Book Review called McCabe "one of Ireland's finest living writers," and the San Francisco Chronicle improved upon that claim, calling him "one of the most brilliant writers to ever come out of Ireland." 1
A significant body of critical work has emerged concerning McCabe's particular brand of dark comedy, but little of the criticism considers McCabe's reliance on the horror films he watched in his youth as having influenced the images and plots of his novels. McCabe himself has explicitly pointed out his debt to such movies. In a 1995 interview, he told Pat Collins that, "I've seen all those films God knows how many times. . . . Anything that was good horror or schlock. I bring all that into my writing. It's so much a part of me that I couldn't keep it out even if I wanted to." 2 Aliens, serial killers, and monsters run rampant through all McCabe's works, and most vividly in The Butcher Boy.
A bleak and violent novel, The Butcher Boy fulfils Nicholas Grene's category of the "black pastoral," which he defines in opposition to the traditional pastoral [End Page 53] as a depiction of a "brutally unidyllic Ireland of the past." 3 Furthermore, as John Scaggs suggests, it "reveals a basic similarity, in both structure and content, to the gothic novel." 4 McCabe's works provide definitive examples of the contemporary gothic, which often takes the traditional gothic themes of nostalgia, repetition, and decay to new and gory heights, reveling in the filth and putrefaction which Julia Kristeva calls the "abject" and which many critics assume to be the horror genre's tainted wellspring.
The origins of McCabe's distinct version of the gothic novel are more likely to be found in the genre's most popular contemporary descendants, horror films, than in the 1765 The Castle of Otranto. Tom Herron has examined McCabe's metaphors of disease and contamination, and shown that his Ireland is a "thoroughly terminal cas[e]," and he notes that McCabe's fictions highlight the "monstrous." 5 While all of these readings highlight the bleak desperation of The Butcher Boy, they do not fully account for the many monsters of McCabe's vision. In The Butcher Boy, monsters proliferate: the narrator, Francie Brady—an oedipal serial killer—is one, and Mrs. Nugent, the disdainful, middle-class neighbor whom Francie comes to see as an alien—is another; furthermore, communists are presented throughout the book as similarly constructed societal demons.
By presenting a series of monsters, moving from the narrator up to his nation, in an investigation of the cultural forces that create all monstrosity, McCabe suggests that many "monsters" are created by their society. He requires that readers recognize these monsters as scapegoats, not demons. McCabe's incorporation of horror films allows him to focus upon society's tendency to manufacture monsters. Horror films also enable him to make a case that those people labeled as monsters—those who are expelled from a community and written off as "filth" and thereby "abjected," using Julia Kristeva's term—often go on to label others as monstrous, creating a sort of chain of abjection in which one "monster" begets another. Notably, it is after watching two horror films that Francie comes to believe he now fully understands both what monsters are and how they should...