Thank you so much to the publisher for my Advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!
- Title: The Butchers’ Blessing
- Series: n/a
- Author: Ruth Gilligan
- Publisher & Release: Tin House Books, November 10th 2020
- Length: 312 or
- Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡sure, because I think it’s a personal problem
Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:
Every year, Úna prepares for her father to leave her. He will wave goodbye early one morning, then disappear with seven other men to traverse the Irish countryside. Together, these men form The Butchers, a group that roams from farm to farm, enacting ancient methods of cattle slaughter.
The Butchers’ Blessing moves between the events of 1996 and the present, offering a simmering glimpse into the modern tensions that surround these eight fabled men. For Úna, being a Butcher’s daughter means a life of tangled ambition and incredible loneliness. For her mother Grá, it’s a life of faith and longing, of performing a promise that she may or may not be able to keep. For non-believer Fionn, The Butchers represent a dated and complicated reality, though for his son Davey, they represent an entirely new world—and potentially new love. For photographer Ronan, The Butchers are ideal subjects: representatives of an older, more folkloric Ireland whose survival is now being tested. As he moves through the countryside, Ronan captures this world image by image—a lake, a cottage, and his most striking photo: a single butcher, hung upside-down in a pose of unspeakable violence.
A widow’s grief after losing her 7 sons and husband in a war, led to the curse: no cattle can be slaughtered without 8 men present and touching the cow at the time, to celebrate her grief and keep it alive. Enter the butchers – a squad of men that go around Ireland, leaving their families behind to slaughter cattle for people that believe in the old traditions.
First off – I made the mistake of thinking this is historical fiction – and it is definitely more literary fiction and coming of age than historically true, as the curse and butchers are fictional.
I was 100% on board with this as fiction set in 1990s Ireland, until the last page, which made me re evaluate the whole entire book. I can’t say why it threw me without spoilers, but it was so out of character for the entire book. What did I miss? What happened next? I also wasn’t following some of the things that happened in the last few chapters, the finality didn’t make sense and I felt like the aim of the story unravelled a bit as it was coming to a close. I was at 5 stars until i finished the book and dropped to 3-3.5, and it didn’t help that I originally read it thinking “historical fiction,”
Set in a time of Irish cultural change, The Butchers’ Blessing is a meditation in faith, growing up, growing apart, and changing culture. My brain had it pegged as historical fiction but its just stereotypical of Irish legends, in a more modern setting. Regardless, this is a great story (minus the last page). It is labelled as a literary thriller and while definitely dark and poetic at times, I don’t think its really a thriller. There is the ever present issue though of how the heck a Butcher got hung up by his feet and left in a cold storage. Tension in the country surrounding BSE and old vs new in general, is a huge ongoing theme in the novel.
The chapters bounced between Gra, Una, Davey, and Fionn, four characters at different life stages. Una is probably the main character and has to cope with growing up while her dad is off slaughtering 11 months out of the year, targeted by her classmates, and wanting to follow in her dads footsteps. Davey is learning who he is before he heads off to college. Gra and Fionn both are dealing with growing apart from their kids, difficult parenting, and various senses of desperation and loss. Each character has to come to terms with the changes brought to their personal lives as Ireland and it’s people modernized.
For a meditation on growth, self discovery, a bit of corpse defamation and mystery, Irish legend, beautiful writing, and a whole lot of growing pains, this is an excellent read for anyone I would say 14+. I just didn’t like the ending and felt like it brought the whole book out of character, as well as some events occuring that I just don’t personally care to read about. I would still recommend to anyone interested in Irish folklore, life, and some 90s throwback culture!