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The Way We Talk: Psychotic Language And The Butcher Boy

The Letter, Issue 17, Autumn 1999, Pages 38 - 62

The Way We Talk: Psychotic Language And The Butcher Boy*

Olga Cox-Cameron

One of the most striking features of The Butcher Boy is that it is a novel sustained almost entirely by one voice. True, this is a voice which exists in a kind of antiphonal relationship to the other voices in the world where the antagonist finds himself. But in contrast to the nineteenth century novel, there is no perceived need to establish the novelistic character in a densely created representational world. Everything is carried by the voice. Perhaps for this reason it is a voice which is very distinctively textured. Like other twentieth century novels, it is a voice which is inserted into regional rhythms and a novel which is almost impossible to read without the reader somehow entering these rhythms. One thinks of other recent twentieth century novels, for example, the award winning recent novel by Kathleen Fergusson, The Maids Tale or the celebrated or notorious Trainspotting or indeed any of Roddy Doyle's novels. This luring of the reader right inside the rhythms of speech creates a seductive effect which is very different, for example, to the seductive effect of Dickensian description. At one level, of course, the fictional world is always a world sustained by a voice. If the voice were to stop, the world would cease to be. So the fictional enterprise presentifies, in a way, a different version of the psychotic dilemma as described so vividly by Schreber. For Schreber too it was absolutely necessary for the voices to continue. Except for Schreber it was not simply his own speaking voice which held the world in existence but equally the persecutory voices emanating from the rays, emanating in turn from God.

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