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Conceived in a moment of mad passion by a randy Irish priest and his temporary housekeeper — and abandoned on a doorstep in a Rinso box as an infant — her ladyship "Pussy" (né Patrick) Braden grew up fabulous and escaped tiny Tyreelin, Ireland, to start life anew in London. In blousy tops and satin miniskirts she plies her trade as a transvestite rent boy on Picadilly's Meat Rack, risking life and limb among the city's flotsam and jetsam. But it is the 1970s, and fear haunts the streets of London and Belfast — ...
Conceived in a moment of mad passion by a randy Irish priest and his temporary housekeeper — and abandoned on a doorstep in a Rinso box as an infant — her ladyship "Pussy" (né Patrick) Braden grew up fabulous and escaped tiny Tyreelin, Ireland, to start life anew in London. In blousy tops and satin miniskirts she plies her trade as a transvestite rent boy on Picadilly's Meat Rack, risking life and limb among the city's flotsam and jetsam. But it is the 1970s, and fear haunts the streets of London and Belfast — and as radioactive history approaches critical mass, the coming explosion of violence and tragedy may well blow Pussy's fragile soul asunder.
Ireland has changed mightily in the last few years, but even today you won't find much of a drag scene in County Monaghan up by the Ulster border. That's where Paddy ("Pussy") Braden got his start in life, courtesy of the parish priest who impregnated Pussy's Ma in a moment of weakness. No one expects a bastard to amount to much in Ireland in the 1960s, but Pussy goes way beyond the worst prejudices of his day. A weakness for his mother's underwear gets him booted out of the house, and on the street he promptly sets up shop as a hooker. One of his regulars is Eamon Faircroft, an IRA officer who always has plenty of cash on hand and is happy to spread it around. After Eamon dies in a bombing, Pussy moves to London to forget his troubles and Ireland's. Fat chance. London in the '70s is rife with Irish terrorists of all stripes, and Pussy turns out to be an IRA recruiter's dream: Who would seem less likely to be planting bombs than a drag queen? Pussy is the type who has a hard time saying no, so he soon finds himself in hot water. But he is also an Irish scoundrel-another type altogether-so you can be pretty sure he'll get away with just about anything he sets himself to. And since the whole tale is offered to us with that no-respecter-of-persons irreverence ("It's bombing night and I haven't got a thing to wear!") that McCabe has spent the last decade perfecting, you can also be sure that the pathos won't sink into the sort of melodrama that Irish narrators have lately been drowning themselves in.
A good yarn, but nowhere near The Butcher Boy: McCabe's terrorist demimonde is at once too bizarre to be moving and too familiar to be fresh.
Topics for Discussion
1. Aside from the narrator himself, all the characters in this novel are viewed through the shifting lens of Pussy Braden's perspective. Several characters, in fact, exist only in Pussy's imagination. Aside from Pussy, which of these characters, real or imagined, are the most carefully drawn and which leave the most lasting impressions? Why?
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 your understanding 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?
About the Author: Patrick McCabe was born in Clones, County Monaghan, Ireland, in 1955. He has published four other novels, Music on Clinton Street (1986), Carn (1989), The Butcher Boy (1992), and The Dead School (1995). He cowrote with director Neil Jordan the screenplay for The Butcher Boy and is finishing a collection of stories.
Posted November 3, 2008
Posted August 24, 2008
I read this novel for my summer english class and thought it was awful. Not only was it written poorly, but confusing aswell.
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Posted April 28, 2008
This is one you've got to read. Kitten is one of the best characters ever created! This book gives us a chance to see Ireland beyond the Catholicism. I also love, love, loved the film.
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Posted October 13, 2009
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Posted October 25, 2008
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