"Is this fellow a friend of yours or not?"
When Joe replied, "No" I was gutted for Francie. He had lost everything and now Joe had abandoned him too.
Francie Brady has to be one of the most disturbed young men one is ever likely to come across. When I read about him shooting the baby pig between the eyes with a pistol bolt I thought of one of my relatives (only by marriage, you understand) who did away with the lovely Priscilla on a small holding near Dromore in exactly the same way. He and Johnny hadn't thought it through. The fat sow was too heavy for them to hoist her up to bleed so they managed to bundle her onto a table and let her drip from there. I'm glad I didn't witness the spectacle, but I did sample the end product with lashings of apple sauce.
Sadly, Francie Brady didn't stop at killing pigs. As the lines between comic book fantasy and reality blurred, the Butcher Boy was out for revenge on Mrs Nugent. It was she who started the whole pig thing. She said that the Bradys lived like pigs so it was like a pig she died. This final act of violence is appallingly brutal and the consequences stick to Francie's clothes like the brock he shovels for the abattoir. It is there that he buries his victim and any prospect of normality.
Ironically, Francie knows where hope is; he just can't touch it. There are splashes of colour in the novel: the white snowdrop and the orange sun, but Francie feels betrayed by them too:
"All the beautiful things in this world are lies. They count for nothing in the end."
Francie can only reach the world's beauty across the bridge of love and relationship. Friendless and alone he ends up in the hell that is the self in isolation: "How can your solitary finish?"
This is a bleak tale of loss and loneliness. It is brilliantly written by Patrick McCabe but unless, like me, you have to introduce it to unsuspecting sixth formers, give it a miss for now. It teeters on the edge of the black hole inside us all.
And me? I can't afford to keep bad company, get bogged down in the brock and forget to reach out to people who can help me to see the sunlight too.
"Whatever is lovely...think about such things."