Summary and book reviews of The Butchers' Blessing by Ruth Gilligan

The Butchers' Blessing

by Ruth Gilligan

The Butchers' Blessing by Ruth Gilligan X
The Butchers' Blessing by Ruth Gilligan
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Nov 2020, 312 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

Set in the gothic wilds of Ireland, The Butchers' Blessing is a haunting and unforgettable thriller brimming with secrecy, tradition, and superstition.

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 nonbeliever 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 man, hung upside down in a pose of unspeakable violence.

Thrilling, dark, and richly atmospheric, The Butchers' Blessing is an engrossing incantation―mesmerizing in both language and story―conjuring a family and a country on the edge of irrevocable change.

And since the war had claimed all eight of her men
She decreed, henceforth, no man could slaughter alone;
Instead, seven others had to be by his side
To stop the memory of her grief from dying too.
—from "The Curse of the Farmer's Widow"

1
PROLOGUE

New York, January 2018

Even now, twenty-two years since he took the photograph, he still cannot quite believe the lack of blood.

The cold store isn't a big room, maybe twenty by twenty at a push, the wall-tiles riddled with cracks and greenish buds of mould. Below, the floor is a dismal skim of concrete; above, the bulbs' glare is a merciless white; in between, the metal brackets traverse the ceiling, the meat hooks laned empty in their rows.

The lack of windows means it is impossible to tell whether it is night or day outside. It also means the walls are bare, save where a portrait of the Virgin Mary has, inexplicably, been nailed. And apart from Our Blessed Mother, there is only one other person in that dilapidated room.

There ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Gilligan asks us to consider why society embraces and celebrates the legacy of some ancient beliefs while dismissing the value of others. By providing equal justification for each character's contrasting desire to either stick to tradition or leave it behind, she avoids sitting in judgement of either mindset, allowing readers the opportunity to draw their own conclusions. Though ostensibly a literary thriller, underpinned by the search for answers concerning the mutilated body presented to us in the opening chapter, The Butchers' Blessing transcends any potential trappings of the genre by opting for a character-driven, slow burn approach...continued

Full Review Members Only (524 words).

(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

The Guardian
Grips throughout, offering a vivid portrait of one of Ireland's less heralded corners.

Kirkus Reviews
[T]he strength here is not the richness of the characters...but the richness of the world. It's an atmospheric portrait of a country at a crossroads, moving away from the traditional ways and toward a slick new millennial future. Thoroughly lovely. Cattle have never been so riveting.

Booklist
A gripping tale of menace and foreboding.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[R]emarkable...As the desperate protagonists discover how far they will go for their desires, their stories illuminate the power of myth, the tensions between past and present, and the weight of family expectations. With beautifully crafted prose, suspenseful plotting, and imaginative scope, Gilligan's off to a blazing start.

The Irish Times
Masterful.

Author Blurb Luke Kennard, author of The Transition
Flawlessly, intricately plotted, with such a compelling central mystery that I binged it like a Netflix show...Stunning.

Author Blurb Donal Ryan, author of From a Low and Quiet Sea
I was hooked from the first page. It was an exhilarating, unsettling reading experience: I felt at once like an outsider and completely at home as I read and was at all times completely immersed and wowed at Ruth's storytelling prowess.

Author Blurb Colum McCann, author of Apeirogon
Gilligan braids beauty and brutality together in a seamless literary thriller. With plot twists worthy of Tana French and language reminiscent of TĂ©a Obreht, this young Irish writer has crafted a story that is dark, wild, mythic, unsuspecting, and absolutely riveting.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Legacy of Ireland's Curses

Ballaun featuring three smaller stones sitting in the depression of a larger flat stone In Ruth Gilligan's novel The Butchers' Blessing, we meet a small yet devoted group of people who strive to uphold historic, ritualistic methods of cattle slaughter in 1990s Ireland. They do this in accordance with their continued belief in the power of the so-called "Curse of the Farmer's Widow." Born of an ancient folktale of unknown origin, the curse is said to stem from the grief of a bereaved wife and mother. Having lost her husband and seven sons to the brutality of war, she vowed to poison the land of any farmer who failed to honor her grief, demanding that eight men be present for the killing of each animal (one to pay respect to each of the loved ones she lost).

Although this particular scenario is fictional, Gilligan likely drew...

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