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Other titles by Patrick McCabe:

The Butcher Boy


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Readers' Group Companion for The Dead School by Patrick McCabe

Delta trade paperback, ISBN 0-385-31423-X, $11.95 US

Readers' Group Companion for The Dead School ©1996 Dell Publishing


1. About the Author
2. About the Novel
3. Questions for Discussion

About the Author:

Patrick McCabe was born in Ireland in 1955. His novel The Butcher Boy won Ireland's prestigious Aer Lingus award in 1993 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His previous novel, Carn, will be published in the United States in 1997 by the Dial Press. He lives in Dublin with his wife and two daughters.

About the Novel:

Set on the campus of St. Anthony's, a prestigious boy's school in Dublin named for the patron saint of lost things, The Dead School tells the story of Raphael Bell, the exacting headmaster who has created a sanctuary for the dwindling provincial Catholic culture of his boyhood. All's well until he invites the young Malachy Dudgeon to teach in St. Anthony's halls. Weaned on alcohol, television, and rock music, Malachy stands for everything that Raphael thinks is wrong with Ireland. Yet disparate as they are, the two men are linked by wrenching childhood losses that neither has learned to overcome. When tragedy strikes a student under Malachy's charge, the tensions simmering between the two men finally explode, leading to a tragic, mesmerizing denouement.

Praise for The Dead School:

"A delight not to be missed, confirming McCabe's standing as one of the most brilliant writers ever to come out of Ireland."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"A mesmerizing tango of psychological ruin."
--Chicago Tribune

"Mr. McCabe suffuses this book with undeniable power."
--Baltimore Sun

"The big challenge for an Irish writer is to move in a new direction from the magisterial accomplishment of Joyce, Yeats, and Beckett, and to do it within the remarkable scope of Irish English. McCabe is the man."
--Kirkus Reviews

Questions for Discussion:

1. The New York Times Book Review wrote that The Dead School "transfixes through the brilliant manipulation of voice." Discuss the impact of the omniscient narrator voice on the tone and message of the novel. Both Malachy Dudgeon and Raphael Bell, the novel's protagonists, have distinct voices of their own. In what way does this affect the tone and message of the book as well?

2. One of McCabe's primary themes throughout his work is societal repression vs. individual freedom. Though Raphael and Malachy come from different generations, how does McCabe articulate this theme throughout the novel?

3. Do you think Raphael and Malachy can be cast as isolated "madmen," or as examples of the times in which they lived?

4. The Chicago Tribune has written that "Patrick McCabe is a master at depicting the byways of interior lives, particularly those of characters who have a tenuous grasp on sanity." Discuss the moments in the novel when both Malachy's and Raphael's sanity begins to slip--and why. Given the circumstances of both men's lives, could these moments have been prevented?

5. Both Dudgeon and Bell suffered irrevocable losses in childhood. Discuss these losses and their impact on the characters' lives. Are these losses alone enough to have set in motion the psychological damage that leads to the eventual denouement of the novel?

6. The Dead School is told in loosely alternating chapters. Discuss how McCabe uses this as an effective storytelling tool.

7. McCabe has inserted two excoriating--and poignant--fable-like chapters in the novel: "Little Chubbies" and "The Dummy." How do they service McCabe's view of small-town life in Ireland?

8. Discuss McCabe's use of popular culture (rock music, cinema, television) to create an external counterpoint to the inner lives of his characters.

9. How does the role of Catholicism, both as a cultural force and an individual commitment, play an important role in The Dead School?

10. Headmaster Raphael Bell considers the feminist Evans as his nemesis. Can Bell's and Evans's opposing points of view about society and education ever be reconciled? Are his feelings of betrayal in her presence legitimate? Or do they simply arise from his inability to adjust to the changing times?

11. The Dead School can be considered a dark novel, but many have referred to McCabe's use of antic humor throughout. Explore the technique of introducing humor in the novel, and its effectiveness as a storytelling device.

12. Critics have said that McCabe is moving in startling new directions from the magisterial accomplishment of Joyce, Yeats, and Beckett. Discuss why this might be so, and if the author himself is as much a reflection of his time as his predecessors were of theirs.