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Clutching at Railings

Jonathan Coe: Late Flann O’Brien, 23 October 2013

Plays and Teleplays 
by Flann O’Brien, edited by Daniel Keith Jernigan.
Dalkey, 434 pp., £9.50, September 2013, 978 1 56478 890 0
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The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien 
edited by Neil Murphy and Keith Hopper.
Dalkey, 158 pp., £9.50, August 2013, 978 1 56478 889 4
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... Lawn’, the Irish Times column written, on and off, for almost a quarter of a century by Flann O’Brien (or, if you prefer, Myles na Gopaleen, or Brian O’Nolan). My favourite has always been the catechism of cliché. When things are few, what also are they? Far between. What are stocks of fuel doing when they are low? Running. How low are ...

Anti-Writer

Clair Wills: Plain Brian O’Nolan, 4 April 2019

The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien 
edited by Maebh Long.
Dalkey Archive, 619 pp., £20, April 2018, 978 1 62897 183 5
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... In March​ 1957 Brian O’Nolan – better known under his pen names Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen – then aged 45, applied for a series of jobs at the radio broadcasting studios in Cork, including station supervisor, programme assistant, and balance and control officer. The same month he announced his candidacy for the Irish Senate ...

Renaissance

Patricia Craig, 2 March 1989

Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival: A Changling Art 
by John Wilson Foster.
Gill and Macmillan, 407 pp., £30, November 1987, 0 8156 2374 7
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... again,’ declared one of them, Tomas O Crohan, in 1926: this elegiac phrase was latched onto by Flann O’Brien, in his satiric denunciations of Irish falsity or self-dramatisation wherever it cropped up, whether with Gaelic Leaguers or island autobiographers. Between Synge of the exorbitant syntax and ...

Dialects

Francis Spufford, 2 April 1987

Greyhound for Breakfast 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 230 pp., £10.95, March 1987, 0 436 23283 9
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Pauper, Brawler and Slanderer 
by Amos Tutuola.
Faber, 156 pp., £9.95, March 1987, 0 571 14714 3
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... by Irish writers: by Joyce, with Vico and scatology, by Beckett, with velleity and bananas, and by Flann O’Brien, one paragraph of whose At-Swim-Two-Birds includes both an argumentum on Rousseau and the sudden eructation of ‘buff-coloured puke’. Now there is a new practitioner, working with a different vernacular and a different elevated ...

Flann O’Brien’s Lies

Colm Tóibín, 5 January 2012

... The writers were Fernando Pessoa, born 1888, died 1935; Jorge Luis Borges, born 1899, died 1986; Flann O’Brien, born 1911, died 1966. Each of them was brought up not only in a shadow country and city, or a place that felt as though it lived now in the shade, but also with two or more languages and with an often disruptive relationship between the ...

Life of Brian

Kevin Barry, 25 January 1990

No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien 
by Anthony Cronin.
Grafton, 260 pp., £16.95, October 1989, 0 246 12836 4
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... The Pillar of Cloud, Redemption and The Flowering Cross. Ten years earlier Brian O’Nolan, alias Flann O’Brien, had written At Swim Two Birds and The Third Policeman. These two works, of which only the first was published in the author’s lifetime, differ from those of Beckett and Stuart in many ways, not least in the sharp, impersonal brevity of ...

The Intrusive Apostrophe

Fintan O’Toole, 23 June 1994

Sean O’Faolain: A Life 
by Maurice Harmon.
Constable, 326 pp., £16.95, May 1994, 0 09 470140 7
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Vive Moi! An Autobiography 
by Sean O’Faolain.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 377 pp., £20, November 1993, 1 85619 376 4
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... exactly regarded as essential. WAAMA inspired the Times columnist Myles naGopaleen (the novelist Flann O’Brien) to an extended fantasy that raised the dilemma of the artist in post-Independence Ireland to Swiftian heights of terror and disgust. In O’Brien’s vision, WAAMA, seeking work for the horde of unemployed ...

Ireland at Swim

Denis Donoghue, 21 April 1983

The Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies, 1977-1981 
edited by M.P. Hederman and R. Kearney, with a preface by Seamus Heaney.
Blackwater Press/Colin Smythe, 930 pp., £25, October 1982, 9780905471136
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A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers 
by Hugh Kenner.
Knopf, 352 pp., $16.95, April 1983, 0 394 42225 2
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... book, A Colder Eye, a study of the modern Irish writers from Yeats, Joyce and Synge to Beckett and Flann O’Brien. Kenner encourages his reader, an American apparently, to believe that Ireland is a crazy country from which, believe it or don’t, a number of extraordinary writers have emerged. Their emergence testifies to the fact, I gather, that nations ...

English Fame and Irish Writers

Brian Moore, 20 November 1980

Selected Poems 1956-1975 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 136 pp., £3.95, October 1980, 0 571 11644 2
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Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 224 pp., £7.95, October 1980, 0 571 11638 8
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... universal and Homeric has been a central preoccupation of modernist Irish writers: Yeats, Joyce, Flann O’Brien, and, arguably, Beckett, have all made Iliads of local rows. Heaney, in a somewhat different manner, shares this preoccupation, as these Selected Poems, chosen by himself from the volumes of poetry he published before Field Work, attest. For ...

Bringers of Ill Luck and Bad Weather

Penelope Fitzgerald: Anne Enright, 2 March 2000

What Are You Like 
by Anne Enright.
Cape, 257 pp., £10, March 2000, 0 224 06063 5
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... and she wanted him. Enright has been described as the Mary Tyler Moore Show scripted by Flann O’Brien, but although she is an eloquent writer and can be dazzlingly funny, she belongs to the present century and the company of, say, Kate Atkinson. For Enright the recognisable dimensions of time, speech and thought (though not place) are fluid ...

Soft Cop, Hard Cop

Seamus Deane, 19 October 1995

Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture 
by Terry Eagleton.
Verso, 355 pp., £18.95, May 1995, 1 85984 932 6
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... explanation for what Irish fiction has achieved in its more experimental modes (Joyce, Beckett, Flann O’Brien). In addition, since Ireland had for so long offered descriptions of itself as a traditional community, and since these had been reinforced by different groups pursuing their own agendas, its Modernism in literature was bound to sit rather ...

Losing the Plot

Francesca Wade: Nicola Barker, 2 July 2014

In the Approaches 
by Nicola Barker.
Fourth Estate, 497 pp., £18.99, June 2014, 978 0 00 758370 6
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... In At Swim-Two-Birds the characters murder their creator (who is, in turn, fictional – Flann O’Brien doesn’t entirely succumb to sado-masochism) and then write their own novel in which he is brought back to life, tried and then tortured. Odd-job man Clifford Bickerton isn’t any happier about being a character in In the Approaches, a ...

‘Très vrai!’

Leah Price, 18 October 2001

Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books 
by H.J. Jackson.
Yale, 324 pp., £19.95, April 2001, 0 300 08816 7
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... them, but Jackson shows that we do both at once. At the opposite end of the spectrum from Sendak, Flann O’Brien proposed a marginalia-faking service for nouveaux riches who’d bought up libraries they had no intention of reading: ‘suitable passages in not less than 50 per cent of the books to be underlined in good-quality red ink and an appropriate ...

Sacred Peter

Norman MacCaig, 19 June 1980

Sacred Keeper 
by Peter Kavanagh.
Goldsmith Press, 403 pp., £4.40, May 1979, 0 904984 48 6
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Dead as Doornails 
by Anthony Cronin.
Poolbeg Press, 201 pp., £1.75, May 1980, 9780905169316
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The Macmillan Dictionary of Irish Literature 
edited by Robert Hogan.
Macmillan, 815 pp., £2, February 1980, 0 333 27085 1
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... Cronin in his reissued Dead as Doornails. This is a memoir of Dublin’s Kavanagh, Behan and Flann O’Brien, and of London’s Colquhoun, MacBryde and Maclaren-Ross. Six kenspeckle characters – ‘and a rum lot too, as the devil said when he read the Ten Commandments’. The book is full of extraordinary anecdotes, but there’s more to it than ...

Chatwins

Karl Miller, 21 October 1982

On the Black Hill 
by Bruce Chatwin.
Cape, 249 pp., £7.50, September 1982, 0 224 01980 5
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... and at least a fleeting trace of Cold Comfort Farm: ‘them do say as she’s a witch.’ And of Flann O’Brien. Convolvulus continually threatens to smother the phlox. Simpletons, saints and grotesques face a ubiquitous aggression and duplicity – and it is a welcome stroke when the worthless nephew to whom the brothers plan to bequeath their farm is ...

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