"Call Me the Breeze"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple JAN 11, 2004)
"Let us never forget just how bad things were! Let us refuse to be gagged and each of us live up to our own responsibilities!.Make no mistake! Joey Tallon will show you the way! He will not shirk from facing his demons as he pleads with you now to confront your own! In that way shall the ocean be seen to part and out of its depths the Temple emerge! The Temple of Colossal Dimensions, my citizens!"
McCabe has always created characters who are damaged and psychologically vulnerable, from the mad Francie Brady, the "pig boy," in The Butcher Boy, to the more subtlely mad characters one finds in The Dead School --two teachers with opposing personalities, both of whom work in the same school. In his newest novel, McCabe gives the reader what s/he has come to expect-a disturbed young main character who is trying to "figure out" the world and how to survive in it, alone. The plot, as in previous novels, includes conflicts between Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the trauma which has damaged the main character, with the secondary characters leading parochial lives, only marginally successful, in a small border town. A great deal of ironic, mordant humor pervades the novel.
But Call Me the Breeze is far more complex, thoughtful, and just plain interesting than any of McCabe's previous novels. Joseph Mary Tallon, the main character, is a bright and intellectually curious young man, willing to read and examine challenging books for clues to understanding his often confused world. Unfortunately, his reading list, at least at first, comes from Charles Manson--"good old Charlie-the Charlie before things had to go and get themselves [messed] up." He admires Manson's desire to make the world better, and is just sorry that Manson chose the wrong way to accomplish this. He becomes fascinated by the novels of Hermann Hesse, the poems of T.S. Eliot, and eventually the works of Nicolai Gogol, Alan Ginsberg, and William Buroughs. Joey attempts to bring order to his thoughts through his writing, writing he shares with the reader as the text of the novel. This gives the novel an additional dimension, since it also allows McCabe to explore within the context of an exciting and dramatic plot, just how one becomes a writer, how writing helps the writer bring order to the world, and how writing, ultimately, can be misunderstood by the world.
The life of Joey Tallon, and the events which influence him, are told in circular fashion, revealed in his brief notes and journals. Since these are his diaries and were never intended for publication, he does not always explain background or identify the characters. As a result, the reader is not always sure who the characters are, at first, or their roles in his life, nor are the implications or connections of events clearly revealed. Joey is obviously very fragile and often unstable, and the reader cannot trust him to be a reliable narrator-he tells us about the world from his own limited perspective. The reader must be prepared to revise original impressions and then revise again as more information is revealed. As the novel expands, the reader develops immense sympathy for Joey, really hoping that he will successfully transcend the limitations of his background. Tension builds to a grand climax as Joey's hopes for the future blossom.
Joey's journals begin in 1976, immediately involving the reader with brief narratives about the death of Campbell Morris, an innocent man thought to be a spy and killed by Provos, and the suicide of someone named Bennett. Without any transitions, Joey then expresses his admiration for The Seeker, a deceased friend with whom he talked about Carlos Castaneda and listened to Santana. He admits that he has a long-time relationship with someone named Mona, with whom he lives in a trailer at a sometime gypsy camp, though we also discover that he worships someone named Jacy from afar. Working as a bartender, he observes local councillor Boyle Henry, and provo-sympathizers Hoss Watson and Sandy McGloin, as they confer, and he chats with Father Connolly, who has invited "Peace People" from Belfast to the town for a peace rally. Later he is present when bombs go off at a roadblock. Life is never quiet for Joey.
Although he travels with a band, takes LSD, and experiences weird dreams and "trips," Joey also begins to attend writing classes, where he is encouraged to search his imagination for inspiration and to explore more fully the ideas of great writers. As the journal continues forward in time, cryptic comments reveal that Joey became mute for a while, that he now wears an eyepatch, that he has been convicted of kidnapping, and that Mona is dead in the reservoir. His writing ability continues to grow-and is fostered by others-and he eventually achieves considerable success writing stories, plays, screenplays, and even a novel-"Look out, James Joyce, there's a new kid in town!". He continues to search for nirvana--a special "karma cave"--however, and to worship Jacy from afar. When he eventually decides to run for public office, promising to build a "Temple of Forgiveness," he commits himself to turning the town away from sectarian violence.Joey, a fully-developed and fascinating character, is, like McCabe's "heroes" from other novels, a prisoner of circumstance. His friends, often as off-the-wall as he is, fill the novel with color and further emphasize the fickle nature of fate. Though dreams and hopes keep one going, and the idea of nirvana is irresistible, McCabe illustrates through Joey that T.S. Eliot is right when he says that "the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time." By the time Joey and the reader have reached the end of this journey of exploration, both will have been on a wild ride in which dreams collide with realities, hopes bloom and then are crushed in defeat, and tragedies exist within triumphs. Life, as we see here, is not linear, but circular, and enlightenment sometimes comes at a huge cost.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Call Me the Breeze at MostlyFiction.com
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Music On Clinton Street (1986)
- Carna (1989)
- The Butcher Boy (1992)
- The Dead School (1995)
- Breakfast on Pluto (1998)
- Mondo Desperado: Stories (1999)
- Emerald Germs of Ireland (2001)
- Call Me the Breeze ( 2003)
- Winterwood (2007)
- The Stray Sod Country (2010)
- Hello and Goodbye (2013)
- The Adventures of Shay Mouse (1985)
Movies from Books:
- The Butcher Boy (1997)
(back to top)
- British Council author page on Patrick McCabe
- Guardian Unlimited article on Patrick McCabe
- An interview with Patrick McCabe
- Guardian Unlimited review of The Butcher Boy
- Guardian Unlmited review of The Dead School
- Salon.com review of Mondo Desperado
- Guardian Unlimited review of Emerald Germs of Ireland
(back to top)
About the Author:
Patrick McCabe was born in County Monaghan, Ireland, in 1955. He was educated at St Patrick's Training College in Dublin and began teaching at Kingsbury Day Special School in London in 1980.
He a novelist and playwright. In 1979 his short story The Call won the Irish Press Hennessy Award. His novels The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto were both shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. The Butcher Boy was the winner of The Irish Times/Aer Lingus Literature Prize 1992. He has broadcast stories on RTÉ and several plays were broadcast by RTÉ and the BBC. His play Frank Pig Says Hello, based on The Butcher Boy, was first performed at The Dublin Theatre Festival in 1992.
Patrick McCabe lives in Sligo, Ireland with his wife and two daughters.