I’m pleased to welcome you today to my stop on the blog tour for The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan. Thank you to Anne Cater and Atlantic Books for giving me the opportunity to share an extract from this book with you today. And if this extract is anything to go by it’s going to be a fabulous read!
About the book:
A photograph is hung on a gallery wall for the very first time since it was taken two decades before. It shows a slaughter house in rural Ireland, a painting of the Virgin Mary on the wall, a meat hook suspended from the ceiling – and, from its sharp point, the lifeless body of a man hanging by his feet.
The story of who he is and how he got there casts back into Irish folklore, of widows cursing the land and of the men who slaughter its cattle by hand. But modern Ireland is distrustful of ancient traditions, and as the BSE crisis unfolds, few care about The Butchers – the eight men who roam the country, slaughtering the cows of those who still have faith in the old ways. Few care, that is, except for Fionn, the husband of a dying woman who still believes; their son Davey, who has fallen in love with the youngest of the Butchers; Grá, the lonely wife of one of the eight; and her 12-year-old daughter, Úna, a girl who will grow up to carry a knife like her father, and who will be the one finally to avenge the man in the photograph.
About the author:
Ruth Gilligan is an Irish novelist and journalist and lectures at the University of Birmingham. She has written four novels, including the Irish bestsellers Forget and Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan. (Atlantic Books 2016). She writes and reviews for the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the TLS and theGuardian.
by Ruth Gilligan
New York City, 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 twentyat a push, the wall-tiles riddled with cracks and greenish buds of mould. Below, the floor is a dismal skim of concrete; above, the bulb’s glare is a merciless white; in between, the metal brackets traverse the ceiling, the meat hooks lanedempty 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 is a man, hanging from the ceiling, upside down.
The Butcher is still fully clothed, minus his socks and boots. His overalls are fastened. His pale shirt is neatly tucked. Only the wounds confirm the worst – that he isn’t just unconscious; isn’t just sleeping the wrong way up like a bat – only the holes in the bridge of his feet where the rusty hook has been pierced through, taking the weight of his body and holding it aloft.
Leaving aside the wounds, there is something almost languid to the flow of the Butcher’s limbs. The flesh has been drained of any trace of violence – any trace of how he possibly found himself up there – while the eyes betray no pain as they stare out from beyond death towards the cold-store doorway where they meet the blinding flash of the camera.
Ronan steps back from the photograph and trips on a roll of bubble wrap by his feet. Usually his apartment is pristine; today it is a chaos of boxes and gaffer tape. He glances at the clock on the wall. The delivery men will be arriving any minute. He is leaving this one unwrapped until the last possible moment.
Two decades on, there is still no denying the impact The Butcher has on him. He has started to accept that, maybe, he will never produce a finer shot; that maybe, despite the awards and the international shows, his peak was right back at the very beginning when he was only a young eejit wandering the Irish borderlands with a second-hand Canon and a baggie full of pills; a determination to find the perfect image that would get his career off the ground at last.
So he supposes it is ego, more than anything, that has finally persuaded him to put this photo on public display. It is good – very good. It deserves to be seen. In the past he always concluded, reluctantly, that showing it just wasn’t worth the hassle. There had been rumours around the body – suspicious circumstances and all that – which meant the image would have been treated more like a piece of evidence than a piece of art. But by now the dust has long settled – no one evenmentions it any more, the ancient group they called ‘The Butchers’ – especially not over here in some small museum on the outskirts of Manhattan where every curator looks about half his age and every photograph is accompanied by a brief wall text that reduces the image to its biographical minimum:
by Ronan Monks
(County Monaghan, 1996)
The man in the photograph is thought to have belonged to a group of ritual cattle slaughterers known as ‘The Butchers’. Composed of eight men, the group travelled the length and breadth of Ireland practising their folkloric customs. However, around the time of the photograph,‘The Butchers’ disbanded after hundreds of years of service. Today, very little record remains of their ancient, unorthodox traditions.
The buzzer sounds and Ronan startles. He presses the button by the intercom then hears the delivery men coming up the stairs, their heavy footsteps and easy drawl. It won’t take them long to move the pictures; the museum is only a twenty-minute drive across the river. Some of them will probably be half-Irish just like him. All of them will probably expect a tip.But for these final moments the only man that matters is the one in the photograph, his shadow pooled black, his toenails curved white in ten tiny crescent moons.
Ronan slides the metal chain and undoes the latch. This could be a mistake, he thinks; could mean giving up a secret buried safe for twenty-two years.
He turns the handle and the light comes blinding in.
End of extract
Well, I don’t know about you, but that intriguing prologue has made me desperate to read more! It sounds fascinating. Definitely one to add to the TBR list!
The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan is available to buy now: Amazon UK
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