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Issue 42 - Perfecting the gift of McNab

Whisky Magazine Issue 42
September 2004


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Perfecting the gift of McNab

Patrick McCabe's disturbed protagonist McNab first appeared in The Butcher Boy; Jefferson Chase sees how he's grown

The great dilemma faced by today's generation of gifted Irish writers is all the other gifted Irish writers from past generations who have, as we Americans say, “been there, done that.” Call it James Joyce Fatigue Syndrome.

Everybody loves Irish literature for its shear delight in language and wry revelry in human foibles. But just how many well-written novels about Finns and Paddys frittering away their lives in pubs does the average book consumer need to read in his lifetime?

Patrick McCabe comes up with a devilishly clever way round the dilemma in his 2001 novel Emerald Germs of Ireland. Open the first pages and meet Pat McNab, a 45 year old stand-in for the author, drinking anything he can get his hands on in Sullivan's Select Bar. Think you've read this one before? Think again.

The difference here is that Pat McNab may or may not be a serial killer.

The novel contains a series of more-or-less autonomous chapters, named after folk and popular songs. The first is entitled “Whiskey on a Sunday,” and reveals that McNab probably killed his mother. That fact makes things all the more problematic when he ends up, in a state of deep inebriation, in the house of one of his mother's friends. Specifically, tangled up in her drapes, then falling down and bumping his head on her furniture:

There was something quite unexpected about the figure of Mrs Turbridy as it made its way towards him through an undoubtedly bleary, fogged up haze. For a moment Pat could not ascertain...

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