Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Four unjustly overlooked Irish writers

Max McGuinness, a columnist at The Dubliner, named four of the greatest alternative Irish writers for The Daily Beast.

One author on the list:
Flann O’Brien

It has long been fashionable for aficionados of post-structuralism to question the parameters of authorial control, to explore the fragmented nature of identity, and to assess the diverse “gender claims” inherent within “texts.”

But dipsomaniac civil servant, Flann O’Brien, was streets ahead of the lot of them. His anarchic 1939 début, At Swim Two Birds, introduced us to novels-within-novels, characters revolting against their author, and men born fully formed at the age of 25. Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault were still in short trousers at the time. O’Brien (which was just one of many pseudonyms—his real name was Brian O’Nualláin) also had the advantage over these rather po-faced Frenchmen of telling terrific jokes.

His next novel, The Third Policeman, was even stranger. Featuring men who become bicycles and bicycles which become men (thanks to the vagaries of quantum mechanics) along with endless footnotes quoting a deranged fictive philosopher called De Selby, it proved too much for his London publisher, who declined the manuscript. A dejected O’Brien abandoned fiction for over 20 years, devoting himself instead to a regular newspaper column, often written in a surreal mixture of Irish and English, but, most of all, to whiskey. The Irish Department of Local Government, of which O’Brien was theoretically in charge, somehow survived. Today, his U.S. sales have abruptly rocketed due to an unexpected appearance of a copy of The Third Policemen in an episode of the TV series Lost.
Read about the other writers on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue