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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 ...


Seamus Deane, 21 April 1983

The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry 
edited by Sean Mac Reamoinn.
Allen Lane, 272 pp., £8.95, November 1982, 0 7139 1284 7
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... all Irish writing in English. Kuno Meyer, Robin Flower, James Carney, Brian O’Nolan (alias Flann O’Brien), Gerard Murphy, Valentin Iremonger, Austin Clarke, Sean O’Tuama, Thomas Kinsella, John Montague and a host of others have created a kind of interstitial literature which responds to the genius of both tongues and effects thereby a form of ...

Our Founder

John Bayley: Papa Joyce, 19 February 1998

John Stanislaus Joyce: The Voluminous Life and Genius of James Joyce’s Father 
by John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello.
Fourth Estate, 493 pp., £20, October 1997, 1 85702 417 6
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... past.’ No wonder that two veteran Joyceans, John Wyse Jackson of the Chelsea Press, editor of Flann O’Brien and Oscar Wilde, and the Dublin social historian Peter Costello, should have been inspired to produce a full-length biography of, so to speak, Our Founder. It is in its way a unique undertaking. Hard to think of any other father in the ...

Machu Man

Jonathan Coe, 2 December 1993

Tintin in the New World 
by Frederic Tuten.
Marion Boyars, 239 pp., £14.95, October 1993, 0 7145 2978 8
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... it seems, is a subscriber to the theory outlined if not first, then at least most cogently, by Flann O’Brien in At Swim-Two-Birds: ‘Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as ...

Overdoing the Synge-song

Terry Eagleton: Sebastian Barry, 22 September 2011

On Canaan’s Side 
by Sebastian Barry.
Faber, 256 pp., £16.99, August 2011, 978 0 571 22653 5
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... century, really been merely a catalogue of horrors? Is this the country that produced Ulysses and Flann O’Brien, exports culture rather than armaments and evolved in a handful of decades from a benightedly parochial nation to a liberal, multicultural one? You might well find little positive in the place if, like Barry, you consistently adopt the ...

Agh, Agh, Yah, Boo

David Wheatley: Ian Hamilton Finlay, 4 December 2014

Midway: Letters from Ian Hamilton Finlay to Stephen Bann, 1964-69 
edited by Stephen Bann.
Wilmington Square, 426 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 1 905524 34 1
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... surely in us.’ The faithful Bann is the most conscientious of editors, though a reference to ‘Flann O’Connor’ conjures a nightmare hybrid of Flann O’Brien and Flannery O’Connor. Almost fifty years on he can confirm doubtful dates in Finlay’s letter by cross-checking them with the date-stamp on the ...

Sweaney Peregraine

Paul Muldoon, 1 November 1984

Station Island 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 123 pp., £5.95, October 1984, 0 571 13301 0
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Sweeney Astray: A Version 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 85 pp., £6.95, October 1984, 0 571 13360 6
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by Craig Raine.
Faber, 109 pp., £5.95, September 1984, 0 571 13215 4
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... of a swineherd. Sweeney’s hardships already have some popular literary currency, in the work of Flann O’Brien (Sweeney kept going until he reached the church at Swim-Two-Birds on the Shannon, which is now called Cloonburren) and W.D. Snodgrass (– ‘“Your daughter is dead,” said Lynchseachan. – “The heart’s needle is an only ...

Naming of Parts

Patrick Parrinder, 6 June 1985

Quinx or The Ripper’s Tale 
by Lawrence Durrell.
Faber, 201 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 571 13444 0
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Helliconia Winter 
by Brian Aldiss.
Cape, 285 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 0 224 01847 7
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Black Robe 
by Brian Moore.
Cape, 256 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 224 02329 2
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... Einstein and Proust, the comic anarchy of the Avignon novels is post-Joyce, post-Pynchon and post-Flann O’Brien. In terms of subject-matter, Durrell has a shrewd eye for the sensational. Readers of the ‘Avignon Quintet’ can steep themselves in the secrets of the Templars, gypsy folklore, Nazi atrocities, the mysteries of the sperm, sexual yoga, and ...


Seamus Deane, 7 February 1985

Children of the Dead End: The Rat-Pit 
by Patrick MacGill.
Caliban, 305 pp., £10, September 1983, 0 904573 36 2
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The Red Horizon The Great Push: An Episode of the Great War 
by Patrick MacGill.
Caliban, 306 pp., £9, October 1984, 0 904573 90 7
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The Navy Poet: The Collected Poetry of Patrick MacGill 
Caliban, 407 pp., £12, October 1984, 0 904573 99 0Show More
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... intensities and strange forms which 20th-century Irish novels display from Joyce to Beckett to Flann O’Brien and John Banville. When the lack of freedom is viewed, on the other hand, as a structural defect, based on economic forces, then the novel tends to be much more dependent for its appeal upon the verisimilitude with which the social formation ...

Green Martyrs

Patricia Craig, 24 July 1986

The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse 
edited by Thomas Kinsella.
Oxford, 423 pp., £12.50, May 1986, 0 19 211868 4
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The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry 
edited by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 415 pp., £10.95, May 1986, 0 571 13760 1
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Irish Poetry after Joyce 
by Dillon Johnston.
Dolmen, 336 pp., £20, September 1986, 0 85105 437 4
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... and the immense achievement of Yeats, and activated their own literary impulses accordingly. Flann O’Brien comes to mind, along with the Bell’s editorial staff and contributors: the O’Faolain dissentients. In 1951, Dillon Johnston reminds us, came the Dolmen Press, under whose imprint first collections by Thomas Kinsella, Richard Murphy and ...

How to vanish

Michael Dibdin, 23 April 1987

The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis 
by Humberto Costantini, translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni.
Fontana, 193 pp., £3.50, January 1987, 0 00 654180 1
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Requiem for a Woman’s Soul 
by Omar Rivabella, translated by Paul Riviera.
Penguin, 116 pp., £2.95, February 1987, 0 14 009773 2
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Words in Commotion, and Other Stories 
by Tommaso Landolfi, translated by Ring Jordan and Lydia Jordan.
Viking, 273 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 670 80518 1
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The Literature Machine 
by Italo Calvino, translated by Patrick Creagh.
Secker, 341 pp., £16, April 1987, 0 436 08276 4
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The St Veronica Gig Stories 
by Jack Pulaski.
Zephyr, 170 pp., £10.95, December 1986, 0 939010 09 7
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Kate Vaiden 
by Reynolds Price.
Chatto, 306 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 7011 3203 5
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... with the pen’ – and Englishing his stories is as much of a challenge as making an Italian of Flann O’Brien. In such a case, half a translation is no better than none at all: Calvino points out that Landolfi’s ‘individual and unpredictable work is only possible because he has at his disposal a language which has rules with established uses, a ...

Unnecessary People

Daniel Eilon, 3 May 1984

Unlikely Stories, Mostly 
by Alasdair Gray.
Penguin, 296 pp., £4.95, April 1984, 0 14 006925 9
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1982, Janine 
by Alasdair Gray.
Cape, 347 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 224 02094 3
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by Snoo Wilson.
Chatto, 160 pp., £7.95, February 1984, 0 7011 2785 6
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Scorched Earth 
by Edward Fenton.
Sinclair Browne, 216 pp., £7.95, April 1984, 0 86300 044 4
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... like them, too, it tries to pre-empt ingenious critical comparisons to Dostoevsky, Kafka, Nabokov, Flann O’Brien, Joyce, Cummings and others by supplying a systematic schedule of allusions and literary credentials (in Lanark this took the form of an Index of Plagiarisms). This novel also experiments with alternatives to the serial ordering of prose on ...

How many nipples had Graham Greene?

Colm Tóibín, 9 June 1994

... Fool was, he wrote, ‘a marvellous book – so much better than my own Power and the Glory’. To Flann O’Brien: ‘At-Swim-Two-Birds has remained to my mind ever since it first appeared one of the best books of our century.’ To Roald Dahl: ‘I have just finished reading Boy with immense pleasure and great horror.’ To Brian Moore: ‘I always ...

Flattery and Whining

William Gass: Prologomania, 5 October 2000

The Book of Prefaces 
edited by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 639 pp., £35, May 2000, 0 7475 4443 3
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... authors (harps are pictured) but none of them except Synge is very Irish. I looked for Yeats and Flann O’Brien but didn’t find them. That they didn’t write prefaces is scarcely an excuse. Anyway, Synge is almost enough, as he concludes his preface to The Playboy of the Western World with these fine lines: In Ireland, for a few years more, we have ...

Hillside Men

Roy Foster: Ernie O’Malley, 16 July 1998

Ernie O’Malley: IRA Intellectual 
by Richard English.
Oxford, 284 pp., £25, March 1998, 0 01 982059 3
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... of contributors: Elizabeth Bowen, John Hewitt, Louis MacNeice, Patrick Kavanagh, Hubert Butler, Flann O’Brien, Liam O’Flaherty and others. ‘Cannot we all meet, throwing in what we have?’ Bowen wrote in her essay ‘The Big House’, published in the Bell’s first issue. The magazine accordingly stood for pluralism and intellectual openness in ...

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