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Breakfast on Plutoby Patrick Mccabe
Synopses & Reviews
Patrick McCabe blew critics and readers away with his novel The Butcher Boy, the story of Francie Brady, a working-class boy in Northern Ireland whose life becomes a violent storm. That novel won the 1992 Irish Times-Aer Lingus Award and was nominated for Britain's Booker Prize. McCabe has returned to Northern Ireland with his new novel, Breakfast on Pluto, which in its own zany way is an Irish Breakfast at Tiffany's, with a goodly dose of "The Crying Game" thrown in. Starring Patrick "Pussy" Braden, a woman in a man's body who knows how to make magic in the squalid world around her, Breakfast on Pluto is a literary event. McCabe is truly coming into his own, and this new book is wild and wonderful.
Patrick McCabe creates Mr. Patrick "Pussy" Braden, the enduringly and endearingly hopeful hero(ine) whose gutty survival and yearning quest for love resonate in and drive the glimmering, agonizing narrative in which the Troubles are a distant and immediate echo and refrain.
As Breakfast on Pluto opens, her ladyship, resplendent in housecoat and head scarf, reclines in Kilburn, London, writing her story for the elusive psychiatrist Dr. Terence, paring her fingernails as she reawakens the truth behind her life and the chaos of long-ago days in a city filled with hatred. Twenty years ago, she escaped her hometown of Tyreelin, Ireland, fleeing her foster mother, Whiskers — prodigious Guinness-guzzler, human chimney — and her mad household (endless doorstep babas!), to begin a new life in London. There, in blousey tops and satin miniskirts, she plies her trade, often risking life and limb among the flotsam and jetsam who fill the bars of Piccadilly Circus ("You want love? That what you want, orphaned boy without a home? Then die for it! Die! Die, sweet Irish!). But suave businessmen and lonely old women are not the only dangers that threaten Pussy's existence. It is the 1970s, and fear haunts the streets of London and Belfast as the critical mass of history builds up, and Pussy is inevitably drawn into a maelstrom of violence and tragedy destined to blow his fragile soul asunder.
Set in the politically tumultuous London of the 1970s, "Breakfast on Pluto follows the misadventures of Patrick " Pussy" Braden, a transvestite prostitute on a quest to find love and a place to call home. Pussy narrates his own story, occasionally pausing to direct comments at Dr. Terence, the psychiatrist who suggested he write it. Born in the border town of Tyreelin, Ireland in the mid 1950s, Pussy is the product of an encounter between the village priest and his beautiful teenaged housekeeper. Abandoned by his mother and unable to contact his father, Pussy is raised by " Whiskers, " a chain-smoking, beer-guzzling foster mother. When Pussy begins demonstrating a penchant for women's clothing and female impersonations, he is booted out of his house. He finds temporary contentment with a British politician who acts as sugar daddy until he is killed by the IRA, leaving Pussy alone once more. Searching for his birth mother, Pussy winds up in London where he finds himself hustling in Piccadilly Circus. Although decidedly apolitical, the terminally exuberant Pussy cannot help being drawn into the terror around him as his friends and lovers are murdered and bombings become a regular occurrence. As he flirts with a soldier in a club one night, a bomb explodes, blowing the soldier to ribbons. When Pussy is arrested on suspicion of planting the bomb, he begins to lose his already tenuous hold on reality. Despite the obvious losses, Pussy never seems to lose hope in his dream of finding love. A courageous optimist, Pussy Braden navigates a world splintered by violence with " pastiche, wickedness and cheek." He and his story are unforgettable.
2. The author has stated that in early drafts of this novel the character of Pussy Braden was conceived as a female but that as he continued writing, he " realized it wasn't about a girl at all." How is Pussy's sexual identity critical in conveying the novel's themes of identity and disassociation?
3. What is the view of religion expressed in "Breakfast on Pluto? How does this view shape the internal conflicts of the characters and the external conflicts of their environment? Which scenes in particular support your opinion?
4. Does Pussy Braden's irreverent attitude towards Ireland's troubles (" It's bombing night and I haven't got a thing to wear" ) diminish or accentuate the horror around him? Is the voice of Pussy Braden more or less effective than those in other Irish novels in its description of Ireland's turmoil?
5. Popular music has a strong presence in "Breakfast on Pluto, and the title is derived from a 1969 pop hit. Patrick McCabe, who is a practicing part-time musician, has said that " you could make the case that all art aspires to be music." Is there a sense of musicality in this novel? If so, how is it manifested?
6. Given his preoccupations with fantasy and lapses in sanity, can Pussy be a reliable narrator? If not, discuss the ways in which his unreliability affects yourunderstanding of the novel's events. If you find him reliable, discuss why.
7. The author has said that "Breakfast on Pluto is a much darker novel than he had originally intended to write. Is there any sense of hopefulness by the novel's end? How does Pussy's consistent optimism in the wake of so much personal tragedy affect your impressions?
8. Discuss the concept of borders as it is presented in "Breakfast on Pluto. Which borders are crossed in this novel, and which remain impenetrable?
9. Patrick McCabe has said that " Ireland is always referred to as a woman. Sometimes it's the Old Woman and sometimes it's the Aisling or the Dark Rosaleen or Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Pussy Braden is my equivalent of that sort of thing." In what way(s) is the character of Pussy Braden a metaphor for modern Ireland?
Breakfast on Pluto, Patrick McCabe's lyrical and haunting new novel, became a #1 bestseller in Ireland, stayed on the bestseller list for months, and was nominated for the Booker Prize, one of the world's most prestigious literary awards. With wonderful delicacy and subtle insight and intimation, McCabe creates Mr. Patrick "Pussy" Braden, the enduringly and endearingly hopeful hero(ine) whose gutsy survival and yearning quest for love resonate in and drive the glimmering, agonizing narrative in which the troubles are a distant and immediate echo and refrain. Twenty years ago, her ladyship escaped her hometown of Tyreelin, Ireland, fleeing her foster mother Whiskers (prodigious Guinness-guzzler, human chimney) and her mad household, to begin a new life in London. There, in blousey tops and satin miniskirts, she plies her trade, often risking life and limb amongst the flotsam and jetsam that fill the bars of Piccadilly Circus. But suave businessmen and lonely old women are not the only dangers that threaten Pussy. It is the 1970's and fear haunts the streets of London and Belfast as the critical mass of history builds up, and Pussy is inevitably drawn into a maelstrom of violence and tragedy destined to blow his fragile soul asunder. Brilliant, startling, profound and soaring, Breakfast on Pluto combines light and dark, laughter and pain, with such sensitivity, directness and restraint that the dramatic impact reverberates in our minds and hearts long after the initial impression.
About the Author
Patrick McCabe was born in Clones, County Monaghan, Ireland, in 1955. His other novels include The Butcher Boy, The Dead School, and Call Me the Breeze. With director Neil Jordan, he co-wrote the screenplay for the film version of The Butcher Boy.
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