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Temporary Note


Flann O'Brien
Fiction and Drama

At Swim-Two-Birds

(1939)

Dalkey Archive, 1998, ISBN 156478181X; Paperback $13.95. [Browse/Purchase]

At Swim-Two-Birds is an intertextual melting pot flavoured by a keen sense of humour and skilful use of language. It is an essentially realistic novel about a man writing an experimental novel. In this experimental novel is another writer, one whose characters start to get a little tired of being pushed around… The novel freely borrows characters from Irish mythology and transplants them from their own world into that (those!) of its own. Not only characters, but extracts from books, including encyclopaedias, become grist for Flann O’Brien’s mill in this early postmodern masterpiece.

The Third Policeman

(w. 1940, p. 1967)

Dalkey Archive, 1999, ISBN 156478214X; Paperback $12.95. [Browse/Purchase]

The Third Policeman follows the narrator’s adventures with bicycles that turn into people, bands of one-legged men, and three policemen of monstrous proportions in a strange yet familiar land where dimensions are bent and twisted out of shape. This is an aphasic marvel in which people go missing never to be found again “dead or alive, naked or with an overcoat.” Accompanied in extravagant footnotes by the mysterious de Selby, the novel moves towards a surprising dénouement.

An Béal Bocht

(1941)

Irish:
Irish American Book Co., 1999, ISBN 1856352846; Paperback $13.95. [
Browse/Purchase]

English: (The Poor Mouth)
Dalkey Archive, 1996, ISBN 1564780910; Paperback $10.95. [
Browse/Purchase]

An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth) is Flann O’Brien’s great satire of the Irish Revival, the Celtic Twilight, and linguistic politics. It is the parodic autobiography of a true Gael, whose life is one of sanctified misery. Among other things we learn that the hero’s father lived outside in the pig pen while the pigs lived in his house and that the people were prone to dance themselves to death. In this sharp attack on romanticised notions of the life of the dwindling community of Irish speakers, O’Brien spares no one.

The Hard Life: An Exegesis of Squalor

(1961)

Dalkey Archive, 1996, ISBN 1564781410; Paperback $11.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Described by Brendan Behan as a “gem,” The Hard Life revisits some of the territory covered by the earlier novels. O’Brien’s liking for the cataloguing technique and intertextuality (in this case copying the style – if not the actual words – of encyclopaedias) is continued in this book. His ear for language is still much in evidence, but the book is less interesting than At Swim-Two-Birds or The Third Policeman. It seems to consist of a series of incidents and conversations strung together into a novel about a mysterious quest that leads to a cataclysmic encounter with the Pope.

The Dalkey Archive

(1964)

Dalkey Archive, 1997, ISBN 1564781720; Paperback $12.95. [Browse/Purchase]

The Dalkey Archive is a weaker work, which recycles parts of The Third Policeman and contains sparks of the postmodern feeling of that book. For instance, it features the intrusion into the “real” world of St. Augustine, the fantastic de Selby, and an appearance by James Joyce, now working outside Dublin, seemingly unaware of his own fame, and hoping to be accepted into the Jesuits. However, the book peters out without realising its promise and seems to suffer from padding.

Stories and Plays (Incl. Faustus Kelly)

(2002)

HarperCollins, 1986, ISBN 0246130873; Paperback, Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

Faustus Kelly, a three act play about the devil and Irish local politics, is reminiscent of Gogol’s The Government Inspector, with its farcical elements and its atmosphere of provincialism. It was not very successful and is regarded as a failure by some critics but it contains some laugh-out-loud dialogue, as when the gombeen men of the council venture into discussions of world politics without ever leaving their own disputes far behind: “I believe that man Stalin is a black Protestant.” “He looks like an Orangeman to me.”


Nonfiction

The Best of Myles: A Selection from “Cruiskeen Lawn”

(2002)

Dalkey Archive, 1999, ISBN 1564782158; Paperback $13.95. [Browse/Purchase]

From Dalkey Archive Press:

The Best of Myles brings together the “best” of Flann O’Brien’s newspaper column Cruiskeen Lawn, written over a nearly thirty-year period. Covering such subjects as plumbers, the justice system, and improbable inventions, O’Brien (whose real name was Brian O’Nolan, though his newspaper pseudonym was Myles na Gopaleen) is replete with zany humor and biting satire directed at the Irish and their preoccupations. Most of all, however, The Best of Myles displays O’Brien’s unique mastery of language and style.

Further Cuttings: From “Cruiskeen Lawn”

(2002)

Dalkey Archive, 2000, ISBN 1564782417; Paperback $11.95. [Browse/Purchase]

From Dalkey Archive Press:

When The Best of Myles was published in 1968, it was hailed (by S. J. Perelman among others) as one of the supreme comic achievements of the English language. Now, in response to the clamorous demands of men of science and the arts, men of steam, of straw and of the law, comes Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn.

Flann O’Brien adopted the name “Myles na Gopaleen” for the hilarious Cruiskeen Lawn column which he wrote for The Irish Times from 1940-1966. Whereas The Best of Myles covered the first five years of the column’s life, this companion edition covers the period from 1947-1957. Here can be found the true transcripts of Myles’s clashes with the law courts on charges of larceny, currency offenses, marrying without the consent of his parents, gang warfare, and using bad language; here too are bizarre obituaries, bores, banalities, jovialities and immoralities, and the return of the preposterous Brother. Also included is the first-ever Myles article.

At War

(1940-1945)

Dalkey Archive, 2004, ISBN 1564783286; Paperback $13.95 [Browse/Purchase]

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Civil servant and satirist Brian O’Nolan (1911-1966), aka Flann O’Brien (for his comic novels) or Myles na gCopaleen (for his humorous, highly opinionated newspaper column), is resurrected in this collection of his Cruiskeen Lawn columns for the Irish Times. Culled from na gCopaleen’s WWII period work and never before published in book form, the columns veer from virulent invective to “a good laugh.” Jackson notes that “the original reader opening his morning paper had no idea whether Myles was going to amuse, anger, surprise, disgust or bore him,” and his selection preserves the chronological order of the original publication in an effort to “restore something of Myles’ unpredictability.” However, the erratic groupings, tacked together by the editor’s enigmatic chapter titles and notes, appear inchoate and limp, compared to other collections of na gCopaleen’s columns (The Best of Myles and Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn). Still, na gCopaleen’s penchant for offbeat subjects (such as Ibsen’s dandruff), his caustic wit (“I am, as you know, an Irish person and I yield to gnomon in my admiration and respect for the old land.”) and playful puns (“As for drink, they tell me it gives you a red nose, a complaint that can be passed on to your children. Damn nosa how red it is!”) offer a hilarious glimpse of both the meaningful and mundane in WWII Ireland. When the layers are peeled away, they reveal an imaginative comic genius with a genuine gift for language. Hector McDonnell’s cartoons add to the hilarity.


Bibliography

At Swim-Two-Birds, (London: Longmans, Green and Co.) 1939
The Third Policeman, (London: MacGibbon and Kee) 1967
An Béal Bocht, (Dublin: An Press Náisiúnta) 1941
The Poor Mouth, trans. Patrick Power, (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon) 1973
The Best of Myles: A Selection from “Cruiskeen Lawn”, ed. Kevin O’Nolan, (London: MacGibbon and Kee) 1968
The Hard Life, (London: MacGibbon and Kee) 1961
The Dalkey Archive, (London: MacGibbon and Kee) 1964
Stories and Plays, (includes Faustus Kelly), (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon) 1973
Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn, ed. Kevin O’Nolan, (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon) 1976
The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman and The Brother, ed. Benedict Kiely, (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon) 1976
The Hair of the Dogma, ed. Kevin O’Nolan, (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon) 1977
A Flann O’Brien Reader, ed. Stephen Jones, (New York: Viking) 1978
Myles Before Myles: A Selection of the Earlier Writings of Brian O’Nolan, ed. John Wyse Jackson, (London: Grafton) 1988
Rhapsody in Stephen’s Green: The Insect Play, ed. Robert Tracy, (Dublin: Lilliput Press) 1994


–Robert Looby
28 July 2004

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