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Breakfast on Pluto

By Pat McCabe
Published by Picador

Given the deserved success of Neil Jordan’s recent excellent film adaptation of Patrick McCabe’s equally excellent 1992 novel The Butcher Boy, expectations are running high for McCabe’s new book Breakfast on Pluto, despite the intervening indifferent response to 1995’s The Dead School. My verdict is that anyone who appreciated The Butcher Boy (‘enjoyed’ is hardly the right word, given the horrific events recounted), will probably be taken with this latest offering too, being as how, despite having a another narrator, it is virtually a Butcher Boy: Volume Two.
The new incarnation to spring from McCabe’s macabre imagination is Patrick ‘Pussy’ Braden, born and brought up in the border town of Tyreelin, where he was the adopted son of the boozy Ma ‘Whiskers’ Braden, and lately of Kilburn, London, where he plies his trade as a transvestite prostitute in Piccadilly. Pussy’s father is the local parish priest, whose starched vestments ‘it would later be the contention of ill-formed psychiatrists, were partly responsible for his son’s attraction to the airy appareil of the opposite sex.’ The quacks would probably also explain away Pussy’s fascination with all things feathery and lacy by telling you that he is trying to get closer to the mother he never knew, a teenager temporarily keeping house for Fr Bernard, whom the man of the cloth had been courteous enough to rape, and whom Pussy vividly imagines as Mitzi Gaynor in South Pacific.

 

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In England in the early 1970s Glam Rock is in full swing, and so too is the IRA bombing campaign. After one such attack, Pussy gets dragged (sorry!) in by the bobbies on suspicion of Provo membership, when his cross-dressing is misinterpreted as a more sinister disguise. Breakfast on Pluto is The Life and Times of Patrick Braden, written at the behest of his favourite psychiatrist, Dr Terence, as a therapeutic measure.
While the idea of rebuking the violently macho world of terrorism by juxtaposing it with an apolitical, camp transsexual is a deliciously subversive idea (redolent of Neil Jordan’s procedure in The Crying Game, and Manuel Puig’s in The Kiss of The Spider Woman), here the manner of the weave is not as seamless as it might be. But then again, maybe this awkwardness is justified, since neither is the matter it enfolds. Liberties are taken with such traditional staples of the novel as plot and character development, tone and point of view (sometimes Pussy writes about himself in the first person, sometimes in the third, and when he uses the latter he oscillates between ‘he’ and ‘she’), but that’s all fine with me.
What is more worrying is that the narrative voice of Pussy Braden is disturbingly similar to that of Francie Brady in The Butcher Boy, (for example, ‘the Patrick Braden ALL-IRELAND FUNCTIONAL FAMILY OF THE CENTURY AWARD’ sounds an awful lot like ‘The Francie Brady Not A Bad Bastard Any More Diploma’). Even their surnames are almost the same. All of which leads one to suspect that the narrative voice in these books is that of McCabe himself. Also, while the clergy undoubtedly had it coming to them, after so long an abuse of power and authority, one can hardly pick up a book or watch a film by an Irish writer or director these days which does not contain an obligatory scene of clerical sex crime, and criticising the Catholic Church in Ireland has become, as Joseph O’Connor declared recently, as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Wouldn’t it better to just let them crawl off and die out, quietly?
These criticisms aside, Breakfast on Pluto is well worth the price of admission, if only for the way it is drenched in the music of the time. Neil Jordan has already bought the film rights, so hopefully we can look forward to another cinematic treat, a collaboration between these two highly inventive minds whose concerns and methods are so alike.

First published in The World of Hibernia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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