The Butchers’ Blessing by Ruth Gilligan
Published by Tin House Books, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Set amidst the devastating outbreak of “Mad Cow Disease” in the 1990s, The Butchers’ Blessing is an achingly real portrayal of rural life in Ireland and an ode to the Republic’s fraught history with its own folklore.
The book opens with a disturbing tableau — the image of an unidentified body suspended from a hook — before jumping back to explore the events that would lead to this man’s grotesque end. It’s a beginning of instant intrigue, and the stakes are consistently raised as we attempt to identify the victim and the perpetrator from a cast of complex, morally ambiguous characters.
The narration is split between five key perspectives: Úna, a preteen girl whose father is one of eight enigmatic Butchers (men who travel the country slaughtering cattle according to controversial traditional customs believed to stave off an ancient curse); Grá, Úna’s mother, who feels trapped in a cold marriage with her absent husband; Fionn, an aging farmer desperate to save his ailing wife to atone for his violent past; Davey, Fionn’s son, who dreams of escaping to the freedom of a cosmopolitan city; and Ronan, a photographer from out of town who longs to make a name for himself.