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On Michael O’Brien

August Kleinzahler: Michael O’Brien

16 February 2017
... New York, population 2500, on the Vermont state border. He left in 1956 to go to college in the Bronx. O’Brien is one of a long line of hicks from upstate who made their way to the big city. John Ashbery, whose work O’Brien disapproved of (‘the poetry of programmatic inconsequence’), had arrived in NYC 15 years earlier, from a farm near Lake Ontario. Many of O’Brien’s poems could be ...
7 March 1996
Leaving Las Vegas 
directed by Mike Figgis.
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... about a failed screenwriter, Ben Sanderson, who decides to quit Hollywood and drink himself to death in the Nevada gambling city. The screenplay was adapted by Figgis from a novel of the same name by John O’Brien (who himself committed suicide shortly after Figgis had acquired the rights to film his book). Figgis signals his awareness of Hollywood’s current sweep-it-under-the-carpet attitude to ...

Lordspeak

R.W. Johnson

2 June 1988
Passion and Cunning, and Other Essays 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Weidenfeld, 293 pp., £18, March 1988, 0 297 79280 6
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God Land: Reflections on Religion and Nationalism 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Harvard, 97 pp., £9.95, April 1988, 0 674 35510 5
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... with its great stress on the martyrs of the revolution – indeed, its virtual cult of the revolutionary dead – has strongly Catholic roots. But the main point of the essay is simply that John Paul II entirely deserved the historic come-uppance he received in Managua. The Pope, characteristically enough, went out of his way to declare his special affection for Cardinal Obando, who has been ...

Freak Anatomist

John​ Mullan: Hilary Mantel

1 October 1998
The Giant, O'Brien 
by Hilary Mantel.
Fourth Estate, 211 pp., £14.99, September 1998, 1 85702 884 8
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... In the Council Room of the Royal College of Surgeons hangs the portrait by Joshua Reynolds of the 18th-century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. It has been much darkened by the bitumen content of Reynolds’s paint, and restoration work in the Fifties has not been able to prevent the fading into the surrounding gloom of many of its ...

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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... ingenious pages. Worth the price of the book alone, as they say. Elsewhere the editors have made a contentious move by including a science fiction story published in 1932 under the pseudonym John Shamus O’Donnell, claiming that there is ‘a compelling case for O’Brien’s authorship’ although ‘no archival material has been found to verify the story’s provenance. Electronic ...

Diary

Ronan Bennett: The IRA Ceasefire

22 September 1994
... if you happen to be unaccompanied and of the wrong religion. I assume it’s an adaptation of some Gerald Seymour novel and reach over to turn the radio off. Then I recognise the voice – it’s John Humphrys on Today. I concentrate. On the Falls, apparently, men with hard, cold eyes used to stare sullenly from behind the iron railings that surround the pubs and clubs, planning their next ...

The Cruiser

Christopher Hitchens

22 February 1996
On the Eve of the Millennium: The Future of Democracy through an Age of Unreason 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Free Press, 168 pp., £7.99, February 1996, 0 02 874094 7
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... was simply repeating some 16th-century fabrications about the last millennium.* This serves as a weak introduction to his attack on the present Pope. Of course it is true, as O’Brien says, that John Paul II is an authoritarian and an obscurantist. (It could almost be said that these qualities come with the territory.) It is likewise the case that the Vatican and the Muslim extremists made common ...
19 June 1986
The Siege: The Saga of Zionism and Israel 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Weidenfeld, 798 pp., £20, May 1986, 0 297 78393 9
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... and even hysteria. The first argued that the Israelis should never return the Occupied Territories to the Arabs because such a compromise would lead to Israel’s death; the second attacked John le Carré for suggesting that Israel might have over-reacted (‘It is as if we British had lost our temper with the IRA,’ le Carré had written in the previous week’s Observer, ‘and decided to ...
30 October 1997
Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency 
by Stephen Knott.
Oxford, 258 pp., £19.50, November 1996, 0 19 510098 0
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The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 367 pp., £25, December 1996, 1 85619 637 2
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American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson 
by Joseph Ellis.
Knopf, 365 pp., $26, February 1997, 0 679 44490 4
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Slave Laws in Virginia 
by Philip Schwarz.
Georgia, 253 pp., $40, November 1996, 0 8203 1831 0
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... Jefferson. There has always been a powerful undercurrent of criticism running counter to the main flow of public opinion. The Presidential election of 1800, in which Jefferson trounced the incumbent John Adams, witnessed an outpouring of newspaper and pamphlet comment directed against his religious indifferentism. Could he be so sure that an atheist would neither pick his pocket nor break his leg ...

Cool Brains

Nicholas Guyatt: Demythologising the antebellum South

2 June 2005
Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South 
by Michael O’Brien.
North Carolina, 1354 pp., £64.95, March 2004, 0 8078 2800 9
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... through its turbulent early decades. The republic was governed by Southern presidents for 40 of its first 48 years, a period of dominance interrupted only by the single-term administrations of John Adams and his son John Quincy. Conversely, 24 years after Andrew Jackson of Tennessee left the White House in 1837, the next generation of Southerners led 11 states out of the Union, founding a ...
5 January 2012
... comes to an end. This end is a great loss for literature, rivalled only perhaps by the burning of the library of Alexandria or the arrival of the man from Porlock. In an essay on At Swim-Two-Birds, John Cronin quotes a crucial passage in Henry James’s ‘The Art of Fiction’ in an effort to find a context for the offences the book commits against both art and, indeed, fiction. James wrote ...

Carers or Consumers?

Barbara Taylor: 18th-Century Women

4 November 2010
Women and Enlightenment in 18th-Century Britain 
by Karen O’Brien.
Cambridge, 310 pp., £17.99, March 2009, 978 0 521 77427 7
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... antinomies were not new, but the context of a rapidly commercialising society emphatically was; and it made womanhood a lightning rod for attitudes to capitalist modernity. What Adam Smith’s pupil John Millar decried as the ‘habits of avarice’ of ‘polished nations’ generated much moral disquiet in 18th-century Britain. People fretted about ostentation and epicureanism, about the ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945

1 April 1999
The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... of poets who challenge received opinions, particularly about the Forties and Fifties. We won’t find, for instance, Burns Singer, one of the most original poets of the Fifties, or David Wright and John Heath-Stubbs. All three were friends of Graham, and their inclusion might have helped the Forties and Fifties out of their New Apocalypse v. Movement stand-off. Hamish Henderson, whose 1948 Elegies ...
2 August 1984
... at garden parties, at openings of exhibitions, those pictures still turn up at auctions, and fetch good prices too, chief justices, lords lieutenant, lords mayor, George Moore, Sir William Orpen, Sir John Lavery, Walter Osborne, Jack Yeats, my famous namesake his brother Bill, Padraic Colum, John Millington Synge, young painters like Paddy Tuohy who really did paint old J.S. Joyce and died of his own ...

In the Line of Fire

George O’Brien: The Sniper

28 November 2002
... ads included the latest from the Army, based around its most recent slogan (which replaced ‘Be All You Can Be’): ‘An Army of One’, whatever that’s supposed to mean. It can’t have inspired John Muhammad, can it? After he was caught, everybody was soon out shopping again. But it wasn’t easy to believe it was over. There was a lot of information to take in: John Lee Malvo, 17, for instance ...

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