‘In a Pig’s Ear, Sweet Pie!’ – why Idiolects are great fun.

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‘You look fantastic!’ she said when she finished. ‘I could eat you!’

And then: ‘I’m going to miss you, Pat Puss, you know! So much.’

‘I love you, Charlie. I’ll write every day, I promise.’

‘Kiss me! Even if I’m Irvin’s and always be forever, I still want you to kiss me!’

Yummy breasts of all time as little tongue goes travelling down belly-town! And other secret places!
Such squelch and sweat the world has never seen! God! – Why couldest not invent a sweeter way to melt and merge? Dickies which might squirt Chanel, or weenies which secrete rosewater?

Breakfast on Pluto, by Patrick McCAbe

This is probably my favourite quote from Breakfast on Pluto, a book I read a few weeks ago. I haven’t watched the film adaptation yet – although I find Cillian Murphy very attractive as a woman, I’ve to say. I’ve read the book is more explicit than the movie so I don’t think I’m going to enjoy the movie that much. Specially because what I’ve loved most in this book is Pussy’s nerve, if you take that from the story, what else is left?

In this blog I’ve talked a lot about different languages, but what about idiolects? An idiolect is a way of speaking associated with an individual. Because yes, we all have our own way to speak. You might not have realised that, but if you’re a writer then you probably know how challenging – and fun, and frustrating – is to give your character a voice. That’s the idiolect. And it’s unique, and sometimes recreating it on the page might be as difficult as learning a foreign language.

Pussy Braden was born as an orphan – he might have been the son of a Catholic priest and his teenager servant – and grew up in the fictional city of Tyreelin. He has always known he’s a woman and also that he wants to find her mother – wherever she is, or whoever she might be.

Horrible things happen to our poor Pussy – the IRA and the Catholicism happen to him, I must say – but she narrates everything with a delicious insolence. Sometimes she seems too optimistic, other times her happiness feels like fresh make-up covering a ninety-year-old face. It’s all pure comedy, because the sadness is there, and the loneliness, they never left.

Her way of speaking is very peculiar. In this quote she explains how she was in the newspaper after being in a disco where the IRA put a bomb – and now the police thinks she’s a member of the IRA as well just because she’s Irish.

To this day I regret that I didn’t keep the Daily Mirror and the Sun, for I didn’t look at all bad either! (…) I’d see the bold black type: ‘Sweet Smile of a Killer!’, which was hilarious, it really was, particularly with the glazy look I had in my eyes and my clothes ripped to shreds. Especiallt as I say, my Christian Diors! Which they had arrows pointing to so you could see my hairy legs (I’m afraid I hadn’t bothered to shave them that night!)

Breakfast on Pluto, by Patrick McCAbe

Exclamations: She doesn’t spare these. She uses them as some people use salt or sugar on everything. This made – to me – her language artificially happy. Like if she pretended to narrate her story all excited, bouncing up and down with bright eyes.

Dashes and brakets: Those are also used a lot to allow Pussy digression. These are mostly anecdotes and funny impressions that contribute to the comedy in the narrative.

Dialogues: Pussy tells us at the beginning she’s writing her story as a sort of therapy for her psychiatrist, who is encouraging her as he seems to think she’s a good writer. Yet she introduces dialogues now and then. As a writer, I always struggle with this. Is it realistically enough? When I write my diary I just ramble, and I never quote what other people have said to me – I think. But my diary is not something readers would find interesting and a book has to be of some interest. So in this case I think we can ‘forgive’ Pussy. The dialogues are also embedded inside the text instead of being separated in different paragraphs, which made them look more casual and part of Pussy’s own voice.

Chapters’ titles: I absolutely loved the fact that each chapter had its own funny titlel. Pussy’s personality shines through these. Some of the best ones:

  • Hysterical Jokes and Greeting Visitors in a Skyblue Negligee!
  • In a Pig’s Ear, Sweet Pie!
  • Vicky likes Salmon!!

Vignettes: The story is narrated in very short chapters – vignettes – which correspond to a single scene. I found the same in another Irish book – Reading in the Dark – and wondered if it might be considered a feature in Irish prose. I’ve to say I like books with short chapters. It makes me feel I read quicker and everything flows more pleasant. I’m fan of the old ‘lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno’ which basically means that if something is good and short is better. At least, as a writer, I like to keep my things ‘short’ – so no 100000 pages novels for me, thanks.

What is real?: The fictional ‘vignettes’ were written by Pussy as a therapy. But along with these there are also pages that preceed and also act as an interlude for these. There Pussy’s voice is the same – slightly more contended, perhaps? – but presumably narrates the real current events that are happening in her life. However, these ‘real’ interludes stop appearing when Pussy tells us how she set fire to the church in Tyreelin and the story finishes in vignettes. I think this subtle game is very interesting as it makes the character more real and less of a caricature  – she might have been ended up by being so if we only had the vignettes. Mixing formats, also, is something I find very original and it also allows the writer to play with different registers and times.

The Irish narrator: Is there such a thing? Apparently what defines ‘the Irish narrator’ is his/her needless eloquence… At least that’s what my supervisor, Eoghan Walls, told me. Pussy is definitely needless eloquent and also quite strident. Yet instead of disliking him I grew fond of him chapter by chapter.

The IRA and the church: These are two things that make Pussy’s life worse. The IRA is always around, killing, and they are violent against the British but also to those Irish who they think disloyal. This is not a sympathetic portrairt. The church, on the other hand, also symbolises Pussy’s struggles. First because he might have been orphaned because he was born from a Catholic priest. Second, because being a transexual woman doesn’t set well with Catholicism anyways. Abortion is also discussed in the book as something that needs to be more accesible for Irish women. Sadly, Pussy knows that he’s orphan also because his mother never wanted him thus she abandoned him. And that feeling of neglect is his curse in life.

Secondary characters: Pussy is telling us her life in first person, and her voice is so intense that there’s little room for more characters. I don’t think the reader minds this, because she’s very engaging. The other characters are just secondary, mere shadows appearing now and then, although she manages to describe them very well and offer the reader a glimpse of their personality – like her childhood friends, Irwin and Charlie. Although, considering that Pussy is an unreliable narrator, you always wonder until what point her perception can be – or not – accurate.

I want to finish with the end of the book, in which Pussy expresses her most impossible wish – to become a mother. I found it weirdly tender.

(…) to wake up in the hospital with my family all around me, exhausted after my ordeal maybe, but with a bloom like roses in my cheeks, as I stroke his soft and tender head, my little baby, watching them as they beam with pride, in their eyes perhaps a tear or two – who cares! – hardly able to speak as they wipe it away and say: ‘He’s ours.’

Breakfast on Pluto, by Patrick McCAbe

‘Have you read it? Have you ever attempted to create an idiolect for your characters?

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