StopSmiling

Buy + Browse Back Issues

ONLINE EXCLUSIVES

eMailing List

  • Name
  • Email
EMAIL STORY PRINT STORY

O Sons O'Joyce, ReJoyce:
The Novels of Flann O?Brien

The Stop Smiling Review

(Everyman?s Library/Alfred A. Knopf)

EMAIL STORY PRINT STORY

Monday, March 17, 2008


The Complete Novels (At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, The Poor Mouth, The Hard Life, The Dalkey Archive)
By Flann O’Brien
(Everyman’s Library/Alfred A. Knopf)

Reviewed by Michael O’Helke

Many are the nights the U2 spy plane of my mind has flown reconnaissance over Ireland, waiting to give the signal to the B-17 bomber of my spleen, in hopes that centuries of sectarian turmoil, Celtic caterwauling, and shamrock sentimentality might at last be brought to a close.

Then I find time to reflect upon the Irish contribution to world culture. The literature alone — that of Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and, especially, James Joyce — is enough for me to forgive the nation’s most infuriating excesses and send the bomber on a course for Serbia.

Then I think of all the authors since Joyce, Irish and otherwise, who have raided Ulysses for its neatest tricks — the stream of consciousness, the parodies, the rambling blarney-speak — and have stretched reader patience to the breaking point ever since; and I reach for the time machine of my imagination to send a squad of ninjas back to 1914 to bring the Master down in a hail of blow-darts before he can scribble “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan,” et al.

Then I think, Wait a second. If I were to pursue that rationale to its conclusion — that the titans of yesteryear are responsible for the bastard children running rampant in their wake, and must be made to pay for it — then I might as well send the ninjas to take out Joan of Arc. After all, Gilles de Rais (1404-1440), the notorious child-murderer, claimed that Miss of Arc had inspired his crimes from beyond the grave. No Joan, no Gilles.

But when I consider the temporal distortions such interferences might create — Nazi astronauts, Joel Schumacher directing Citizen Kane — I think, umm, no, that just won’t do.

Flann O’Brien, the pen name of Brian O’Nolan, was 11 in 1922, the year Ulysses was published. O’Brien distinguishes himself from the lot who comprise the Sons O’Joyce as one of the first, and one of the best; no time-traveling ninja need disturb his infant cradle. He grew to become a faithful Joycean who had little patience for his fellow adherents. (“If I ever hear that name Joyce one more time,” he once declared, “I will surely froth at the gob.”) He was also a fluent Gaelic speaker who was skeptical of schemes to promote a Gaelic revival. By the time he died in 1966 (not my fault), he had left behind a small set of comic novels, and a mess of newspaper columns and letters-to-the-editor, much of it pseudonymous, which run the gamut from brilliant to (borrowing the title of the short-lived magazine he and his friends founded in the 1930’s) blather. As an Irish civil servant with a brood of Irish whelps to support, he found himself forced into pseudonyms for fear that his writings might queer his day job. Whereas his hero felt it incumbent to leave Ireland to realize his visions, O’Brien had to practice his exile, silence, and cunning at home.

EMAIL STORY PRINT STORY

© 2010 Stop Smiling Media, LLC. All rights reserved.       // Site created by: FreshForm Interactive