Breakfast on Pluto, a novel by Patrick McCabe

Book Description

Breakfast on Pluto, Patrick McCabe's lyrical and haunting new novel, became a #1 bestseller in Ireland, stayed on the bestseller list for months, and was nominated for the Booker Prize, one of the world's most prestigious literary awards. With wonderful delicacy and subtle insight and intimation, McCabe creates Mr. Patrick "Pussy" Braden, the enduringly and endearingly hopeful hero(ine) whose gutsy survival and yearning quest for love resonate in and drive the glimmering, agonizing narrative in which the troubles are a distant and immediate echo and refrain. Twenty years ago, her ladyship escaped her hometown of Tyreelin, Ireland, fleeing her foster mother Whiskers (prodigious Guinness-guzzler, human chimney) and her mad household, to begin a new life in London. There, in blousey tops and satin miniskirts, she plies her trade, often risking life and limb amongst the flotsam and jetsam that fill the bars of Piccadilly Circus. But suave businessmen and lonely old women are not the only dangers that threaten Pussy. It is the 1970's and fear haunts the streets of London and Belfast as the critical mass of history builds up, and Pussy is inevitably drawn into a maelstrom of violence and tragedy destined to blow his fragile soul asunder. Brilliant, startling, profound and soaring, Breakfast on Pluto combines light and dark, laughter and pain, with such sensitivity, directness and restraint that the dramatic impact reverberates in our minds and hearts long after the initial impression.

Chapter Excerpt

It was a beautiful crisp Christmas morning. All across the little village which lay nestled on the southern side of the Irish border, one could sense an air of tense but pleasurable expectancy. Already the small birdies, as if conscious of the coming mood of celebration and acceptable self-indulgence which was so much a part of the much-loved season, had begun their carefully co-ordinated invasions, their industrious beaks like so many arrowheads stiletto-jabbing the frosted gold-tops of the early-morning milk bottles. Even at this early hour, there are one or two children playing--cork guns being proudly displayed and nurses' uniforms flaunted in so many minx-like parades. In places, the snow has begun to melt but this is still a scene that any seasonal greeting card would be more than proud to play host to. A door closes quietly and the first Mass-goer makes her way determinedly through the streets, her Missal clutched tightly and her knitted cap pulled firmly about her ears. Through a gap in the clouds comes the peal of a church bell. Already, the beloved pastor of this parish, Father Bernard McIvor, will be busying himself inside his sacristy. Donning the starched vestments which, it would later be the contention of an ill-informed psychiatrist, were partly responsible for his son's attraction to the airy appareil of the opposite sex.

For him, in many ways, these Christmasses have lost their meaning. Once upon a time, as a young curate, he remembered, he would have held his congregation in thrall with tales of yuletides long ago, and of the special meaning the season had for all Christians throughout the world. His homily topped off, as a plum pudding with a sprig of holly, with one of his truly awe-inspiring renditions of 'The Holy City' or perhaps 'O Holy Night', for which he was renowned throughout the length and breadth of the country. Or had been, once upon a time. But sadly those days were no more. When asked why he no longer sang in the church on Christmas morning, his eyes would appear to glaze over and he would regard his inquisitor with an expression of mystification almost as if the reasons were far beyond him too. Which they weren't, of course, for as many of his parishioners knew, despite rarely giving voice to it in public, the what might be termed: Change in Father Bernard dated back to a single 1950s morning and to no other--the morning he inserted his excitable pee pee into the vagina of a woman who was so beautiful she looked not unlike Mitzi Gaynor the well-known film star. And then arranged for her to go to London so that there would be no dreadful scandal. 'Dear, dear. I wonder what is wrong with Father Bernard,' his parishioners would say, adding: 'He's not the man he was at all.'

It would have been nice, of course, if at any time in the intervening years--particularly at Christmas--he had arrived down to the Braden household with a little present for his son. Which he didn't, of course, with the result that Yuletide celebrations in that particular establishment consisted of one plate of Brussels sprouts, a midget of a turkey and God knows how many half-human children growling and tearing at it like wild animals. And, of course, 'Mummy' sitting puffing Players in the corner, shouting. 'Quit youser fucking fighting! And 'Stop tearing the arse out of that turkey!' Santa jingle-belled all the way to the North Pole. What? On the television? Are you out of your mind? Whiskers Braden couldn't afford to buy televisions! Any jingle-belling there was took place on the beat-up old wireless on the mantlepiece above our dazzling array of wee-wee-stenching undies.

But nevertheless all's well that ends well and now that she's suitably drunk she decides to pull the only cracker available, triumphantly producing it from her handbag and yowling: 'Come on over here and pull this fucking cracker till we get this fucking Christmas finished with!' as, happy family that we are, like a snapshot from the past, we all come crowding around, happy bright-eyed bastards all--Wee Tony, Hughie, Peter, Josie, Caroline and snot-trailing Little Ba, who for such a magnificent display of domestic harmony are hereby presented unopposed with the Patrick Braden all-ireland functional family of the century award! So congratulations, Hairy Ma and all your little out-of-wedlock kids!

The foregoing is excerpted from Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

Reading Guide

Plot Summary

Set in the politically tumultuous London of the 1970s, Breakfast on Pluto follows the misadventures of Patrick "Pussy" Braden, a transvestite prostitute on a quest to find love and a place to call home. Pussy narrates his own story, occasionally pausing to direct comments at Dr. Terence, the psychiatrist who suggested he write it. Born in the border town of Tyreelin, Ireland in the mid 1950s, Pussy is the product of an encounter between the village priest and his beautiful teenaged housekeeper. Abandoned by his mother and unable to contact his father, Pussy is raised by "Whiskers," a chain-smoking, beer-guzzling foster mother. When Pussy begins demonstrating a penchant for women's clothing and female impersonations, he is booted out of his house. He finds temporary contentment with a British politician who acts as sugar daddy until he is killed by the IRA, leaving Pussy alone once more. Searching for his birth mother, Pussy winds up in London where he finds himself hustling in Piccadilly Circus. Although decidedly apolitical, the terminally exuberant Pussy cannot help being drawn into the terror around him as his friends and lovers are murdered and bombings become a regular occurrence. As he flirts with a soldier in a club one night, a bomb explodes, blowing the soldier to ribbons. When Pussy is arrested on suspicion of planting the bomb, he begins to lose his already tenuous hold on reality. Despite the obvious losses, Pussy never seems to lose hope in his dream of finding love. A courageous optimist, Pussy Braden navigates a world splintered by violence with "pastiche, wickedness and cheek." He and his story are unforgettable.

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.

ISBN: 0060931582; Imprint: Harper Perennial; On Sale: 10/06/1999; Format: Trade PB; Trimsize: 5 5/16 x 8; Pages: 224; $13.00; $19.00(CAN)