‘Breakfast on Pluto’ by Patrick McCabe

PatrickMcCabe_BreakfastOnPlutoI completely lost patience with this (thankfully short) novel.

Breakfast on Pluto is the dysfunctional story of Patrick ‘Pussy’ Braden, a transvestite living in the Irish village of Tyreelin near to the border with Northern Ireland. It follows her story (and fantasies) as, in her search for the perfect man who will keep her in clothes from Biba and Chanel Number 5 (it’s set in the 70s and early 80s), she moves to London. But life as a prostitute and, lately, a target for the police in their search to apportion blame for the spate of IRA bombings in the city, she returns to Ireland.

It’s not the story itself that’s the problem – it’s the chosen style of author Patrick McCabe. Macabre and grotesque in tone, the dark humour is delivered at a manic, hysterical pace with no sense of continuity.

In the space of a few pages, Pussy fantasises about exacting revenge on her father (the parish priest), searching for her beautiful birthmother (a spitting image of Mitzi Gaynor) and pleasing the latest sugar daddy. Stylistically, her madcap fantasies reflect the emotional helter-skelter of Pussy herself. And mixed with Pussy’s everyday are the political events of the ‘troubles’ in Ireland at the time – the execution of informers, bombing campaigns.

But Breakfast on Pluto falls short in emotional engagement. Manic in its delivery, there’s a lack of connection with Pussy or any of the other (sketchily presented) characters. You want to like her, but the book gives very little help. And the humour lauded by critics (“wild, hilarious, merciless…” The Sunday Independent) generally passed me by – again! (It seems I have a ‘problem’ with books written in the 90s that are labelled in some way as funny – see Paddy Ha Ha Ha (Roddy Doyle) and Under the Frog (Tibor Fischer).

Patrick McCabe’s second Booker Prize shortlist, Breakfast on Pluto lost out to Ian McEwan and Amsterdam at the 1998 awards.

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