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A collection of vaguely linked stories, set in the fictional Irish town of Barntrosna and putatively authored by one Phildy Hackball - who is, in fact, none other than Irish novelist McCabe (Breakfast on Pluto, 1998, etc.).

The tremendous success of McCabe's dark novel The Butcher Boy, and the even greater success of Neil Jordan's bleakly riotous film of it, have suddenly brought McCabe a much larger audience abroad than he now enjoys at home (although his popularity has swelled there, too).  Consequently, the market for his work has increased to such a degree that sales of just about anything with his name on it are pretty well assured.  This may explain how these rather slight stories - which give every impression of being either fragments or sketches of larger works left stillborn - found their way into print, for there is nothing very memorable or striking in any of them, or in the collection as a whole.  There is McCabe's distinctive voice, to be sure - simultaneously quaint and outrageous, capable of offending the very people it most entertains - and this is no small thing.  The obsessed bishop of "I Ordained the Devil" (who comes to the conclusion, in the most macabre Jamesian style, that he did precisely that), the demented jealous husband of "Hot Nights at the Go-Go Lounge" (who's so convinced that his wife is unfaithful to him that he loses his reason in an Othellian fit of jealousy), and the epicene, pious prig of "the Bursted Priest" (who drives his young classmates so mad with his piety that they enact upon him a vengeance worthy of the Spanish Inquisition) - all of these (and quite a few others) are true McCabian types who lack the benefit of a real McCabian plot.  Like bastard children, they have their father's eyes but lack his fortunes, and seem quite forlorn and homeless in the end.

A disappointment:  McCabe's voice is a treasure, but it cannot turn water into beer.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-06-019461-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2000


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