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The Butchers Reviews

The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan

The Butchers

Ruth Gilligan

Score pending

2 reviews

Imprint: Atlantic Books
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication date: 26 Mar 2020
ISBN: 9781786499448

The first novel truly to capture the story of Ireland during the BSE crisis, shown through the small, deeply intimate stories of four people caught up in its churn.

4 stars out of 5
22 Apr 2020

"this strange and poignant book grips throughout, offering a vivid portrait of one of Ireland’s less heralded corners."

Some of the current affairs land with a clunk (“Mossy was referring to the Divorce Bill that was after going through on Monday”) and the TV or radio are forever giving plot-relevant updates. But Gilligan makes her characters believable and sympathetic, and by setting the careful, intensely personal killing by the butchers against the profit-driven industrial farming that brought BSE into the food chain, she creates a pungent contrast that powers her novel... There are plenty of threads running through the novel, and they aren’t all convincingly resolved. But this strange and poignant book grips throughout, offering a vivid portrait of one of Ireland’s less heralded corners.


4 stars out of 5
Catherine Taylor
30 Mar 2020

"Ruth Gilligan’s uncanny novel has a terrible dark heart and is set around the BSE virus"

Gilligan’s backdrop of heart-stopping rural beauty and changing seasons – the remote lake where Grá swims daily, the comfort of Fionn’s cow byre and his favourites among the cattle, known as “the girls” – is laced with fear and menace: the rope which swings like a noose in Fionn’s farmyard; the black weeds in the water which threaten to drag Grá down into the depths. Úna is a singular and at times unnerving creation: questioning her identity, she is also a girl reluctant to grow up, binding her developing breasts and cutting her long hair, with a morbid fascination for The Butchers’ practices: and yet Gilligan rightly uses her to question misogyny and custom. Similarly Davey, who faces up to his own burgeoning sexuality in a brief romance with Con, one of the younger Butchers, also becomes an agent for change.