by Gloria M (San Jose): The novel “The Butchers’ Blessing” is contained within a contemporary timeframe, from 1996 to 2018. Ruth Gilligan has crafted a totally original story and it is so compelling many readers believed this group of butchers were based on an actual folktale. While much of the history and news bits in the book are accurate (the mad cow crisis and the tensions in Ireland etc. etc.,) Gilligan has admitted in interviews that this bunch of traveling men emerged solely from her imagination. Evidently this reveal disappointed and even angered (gasp) many readers! All fiction is by definition not cold hard facts, though of course often reflects real life. As readers, we should be familiar with suspending reality and stick to getting lost in the world of the book we are perusing.

The tale is undeniably captivating. Una and her mother, Gra, are caught in the lifestyle of their head of household, one of the eight male travelers who spend eleven months visiting believers across Ireland to enact the ritual (and mostly gentle)slaughter of cattle. Life is lonely and hard and the females left behind suffer from the prejudices and bullying of their neighbors. An ambitious photographer, Ronan Monks appears on the first page, reminiscing about an old picture of a deceased butcher that has never been released for viewing. Thus a mystery becomes interwoven with the saga; which one of the group died? And was he murdered and if so, by whom? Davey and his parents, Fionn and Eileen are also vital characters. Farmers struggling to survive in the new modern world, they must simultaneously come to terms with the cancer that strikes one of them and then their ties to the old ways.

This was an unexpected pleasure to read. Clever and engrossing, it might not be a concept some readers would initially choose. However, it is packed full of emotion and it generates empathy and a desire for justice and satisfying endings for those deserving them. Give it a chance, you may find yourself thinking about the characters for quite some time.