THE DEAD SCHOOL by Patrick McCabe


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 McCabe, as skilled and significant a novelist as Ireland has produced in decades, follows up 1993's acclaimed The Butcher Boy- -his third novel and American debut--with yet another savagely acerbic riff on the decay of modern life and the modern Irish. Malachy Dudgeon and Raphael Bell are as distant in age and attitude as they are morally removed from their prophet and angel namesakes. Malachy, the younger, coasts on his innocent wits while struggling with the trauma of his parents' loveless marriage that drove his father to suicide. Raphael, older by a generation, can't escape the memory of his own father's murder at the hands of Ireland's vicious Black and Tans. With no gentle irony, McCabe gives both men jobs in the same Catholic boys' school, St. Anthony's, where Raphael establishes a legendary reputation for himself as a principal who prizes discipline over progressive pedagogy, and where inexperienced teacher Malachy soon discovers that his hipster personality is no match for his horribly misbehaved students. Beaten like animals by the likes of Raphael, the boys of St. Anthony's have learned to attack at any sign of weakness. It isn't long before tragedy strikes (a student drowns) and Malachy gets sacked. At the same time, Raphael suffers his own trials: Hippie educational reformers are clamoring for his hide, and he's lost the support of the Catholic clergy. When Malachy's wife cheats on him with a rock guitarist, he lights out for London, where he swiftly degenerates into a dope fiend and derelict. Raphael remains in Dublin, but, following the death of his wife, he barricades himself in his house and starts The Dead School, delivering alcoholic lectures to phantom students while his deceased cat rots on the windowsill. At the close, McCabe recollides his characters in a brief and hilariously awkward showdown--and then permits things to become even worse. The big challenge for an Irish writer is to move in a new direction from the magisterial accomplishment of Joyce, Yeats, and Beckett, and to do it within the remarkable scope of Irish English. McCabe is the man.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-31420-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Dial
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


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