The Reading Group convened just before half term to discuss the first choice of the year, Patrick McCabe’s disturbing, anarchic short novel The Butcher Boy. Written in a sometimes confusing, punctuation ‘light’, first person narrative style, the novel tells the story of Francie Brady, a young boy growing up in small-town Ireland, the only child of a largely dysfunctional family, one blighted by mental health issues, alcoholism and violence. Events spiral out of control, leading ultimately to the committing of a horrific murder. From this rather grim subject matter, McCabe somehow manages to conjure up a story touched by genuine sadness, pathos and humour.

Opinion in the Reading Group was divided but the majority enjoyed the novel, adapting quickly to the unusual narrative style and the black humour lying at the heart of the piece. There was sympathy for the plight of Francie and his doomed attempts at establishing meaningful relationships, and admiration for the sparkling realism of the dialogue. It was felt that the main characters, whilst sometimes presented, deliberately, as one dimensional stereotypes, were often believable, if not always likeable, and the bloody climax of the story is not forgotten easily. Altogether a thought provoking and successful start to the year’s reading.

By contrast, the next choice is Kate Chopin’s feminist classic The Awakening.