The O’Brien archive

Flann O’Brien is the pseudonym Brian O’Nolan used as a novelist, but this collection also contains works written as Brian Ó Nualláin (for pieces in Irish), Brother Barnabas, Myles na gCopaleen, Myles na Gopaleen, Lir O’Connor, and Brian O’Nolan.

This collection is of previously unavailable material, of interest to all admirers of this great writer.

The centenary of the birth of O’Brien (1911-1966) was marked by an academic conference in Vienna, and the coining of the word “Flanneur” for his admirers, a word play on flâneur. (join the Flann Association at www.univie.ac.at/flannobrien2011/IFOBS.html) . A second conference was held, in Rome this year, while his 101st birthday, on Oct 5, 2012, was celebrated with a Flann O’Brien Google cartoon.

Born in an Irish-speaking family in Strabane, Co Tyrone, O’Nolan was a civil servant in Dublin, and moonlighted as a newspaper columnist, Myles na Gopaleen. His collections of humorous columns and his five wildly inventive novels have given him a posthumous reputation far greater than any acclaim in his lifetime.

His publishing history is unfortunate. His masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds, was published in London, in 1939, and only 240 copies were sold before the print run was incinerated in a Luftwaffe raid. Reviews were unenthusiastic, but it was championed by other writers, including Graham Greene, James Joyce and Dylan Thomas.

It was not until 1959 that the publisher, Timothy O’Keeffe, persuaded O’Nolan to allow a new edition. An Béal Bocht, a satire of the Irish language, appeared in 1941, but O’Brien refused to allow it to be published in English, and The Poor Mouth only appeared in 1973. The Third Policeman, which is often considered his finest novel, was rejected by publishers, and first appeared in 1967, a year after his death.

The neglect of his early novels, combined with his dependence on alcohol, had a bad effect on his two, later novels, which the Flanneurs regard as inferior, even though The Dalkey Archive was adopted as a name by his current American publisher.

This collection shows O’Brien’s metafictional ideas and absurdist techniques ten years before the three major novels (At Swim-Two-Birds, An Béal Bocht and the unpublished The Third Policeman).

Five Irish-language stories from the early 1930s, newly translated by Jack Fennell, of the University of Limerick, are recognisably by the same hand that wrote An Béal Bocht, and also prefigure his use of Irish myth and legend in At-Swim-Two-Birds. An added pleasure is provided by the translator’s ingenious footnotes, which elucidate the games O’Brien played, not only bilingually, but also with typefaces.

The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien

Edited by Neil Murphy and Keith Hopper, with translations from the Irish by Jack Fennell

Dalkey Archive Press, €13.75

ebook, €8.60

To buy this book click here.

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