The violent history that continues to plague the Irish writer's fragmented homeland, dramatized in such critically praised fiction as The Butcher Boy (1993) and Breakfast on Pluto (1998), once again suffuses his blackly comic—and frustratingly arch—latest.
Structured as a basically chronological series of related tales, McCabe's seventh novel chronicles the increasing dementia of Pat McNab, a middle-aged bachelor son of "Gullytown" in rural Northern Ireland—and a serial alcoholic whose problems only begin when he murders his nagging mother and buries her in the backyard. In a bifurcated narrative that observes Pat’s actions both through a boozy haze and from the viewpoint of an analytical (and annoyingly pedantic) omniscient observer, McCabe compiles a lurid and often risible catalogue of rapidly accumulating horrors. Egged on by the ghost of his (still domineering) "Mammy," Pat impulsively dispatches neurotic widow Mrs. Tubridy (who makes him her domestic slave and lover), an "interfering peddler of dirt" (i.e., a "turf salesman") unwise enough to threaten blackmail, a property-hungry neighbor, an amorous aunt retired from a career in pornographic films, and numerous others—including Pat's confederates in a botched drug operation, three wild girls who take a fancy to him (in a droll parody of the classical legend of the Golden Apples), and even the policeman who finally arrives to apprehend him. Or are these crimes only figments of Pat's drunken imagination?—a possibility clearly suggested by considerable internal evidence, including interpolated flashbacks to Pat's childhood, spent cowering under the thumb of his brutal father, a former IRA soldier himself irrationally inclined to "imagining things." Meanwhile, McCabe keeps it all moving along swiftly, employing snatches of sentimental poetry and pop songs as chapter headings and ironic refrains.
One wonders, though, why McCabe seems compelled to keep retelling the same essential story, with minimal (albeit artful and ghoulishly amusing) variations. One gets the point, appreciates the skill with which it's made, and wishes this impressively gifted author would move on.