The Dead School

Patrick McCabe, Author
Patrick McCabe, Author Dial Press $21.95 (286p) ISBN 978-0-385-31420-6
Reviewed on: 04/03/1995
Release date: 04/01/1995
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-385-31423-7
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McCabe's The Butcher Boy (Booker shortlisted in the U.K. and a critical success over here) was roundly praised as a ``triumph of voice,'' and indeed the smart-alecky Joyce-drunk narration of Francie Brady was a steady delight throughout an otherwise harrowing portrait of rural Ireland. Now, in this new book, McCabe attempts to tame his own apparent gift for the novelist's rowdy blather and build a traditional novel, full of structure and dramatic tension; instead, he has produced a predictable story with stock characters, well-timed dreams and deaths whenever the pace truly lags. The Dead School is the tale of two schoolteachers a generation apart--Raphael Bell, born in 1913, and Malachy Dudgeon, born in 1952; the first the son of an IRA man killed by the Black and Tans, the younger the son of a cuckold who took his own life. McCabe has powerful material here, as the two different Irelands, revolutionary Ireland and post-colonial Ireland, with its TV shows, rock bands and Indian food, clash at St. Anthony's school in Dublin, where young Malachy teaches and Raphael is headmaster. The fates of these two are bound for mutual destruction, as the peculiar narration, in the form of a lecture to some children from yet another schoolteacher, baldly hints at from the start. Unfortunately, readers have to wade through long spells of madness from both characters before the inevitable and tragic clash. McCabe shows flashes of his lyrical brilliance and wild exposition, but his theme has fared better in the hands of countrymen Colm Toibin, John B. Keane and Roddy Doyle. (Apr.)
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