Saturday, November 02, 2013

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Flann O'Brien

The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien

Edited by Neil Murphy and Keith Hopper
Translations from the Irish by Jack Fennell

Dalkey Archive, 2013

Often a collection of short fiction is the place to start if you wish you wish to begin to discover a writer unfamiliar to you.  For example, you could begin to explore Joyce with Dubliners, or Beckett with the Complete Short Prose.  Not so in this case.  This book is for fans and scholars.  If you are not yet a fan, you will be shortly, but please: start with At Swim, Two Birds.

That said, Dalkey Archive has done great service by rescuing these stories.  Several of them are so vivid and appealing that I expect that they will now be anthologized for as long as the human race hangs on.  I am thinking of “John Duffy’s Brother” and especially “Scenes in a Novel”, which experiments with the device of characters in rebellion against their novel, prefiguring At Swim, Two Birds.

The story that impressed me most was “Drink and Time in Dublin” -- a relentless and unsparing account of going on a bender.  My god, but the man tells a lot of the truth.  (When I visited the Writer’s Museum in Dublin, I went up to the attendant and said very earnestly that I wished to visit all the places in Dublin associated with the life of Flann O’Brien.  The gentleman shook his head at me and said, “You couldn’t possibly, you’d die a’ alcohol poisoning.”)

“Slattery’s Sago Saga”, the forty-one page manuscript of O’Brien’s last unfinished novel -- about a plan to remove all the potatoes from Ireland and replace them with sago -- is a joy and a frolic.  If there turns out to be an afterlife, you will find me in the pub of that establishment, begging Flann O’Brien to tell me the rest of the story.

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