Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Flann O'Brien Centennial

When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -

Flann O'Brien - Brian O'Nolan (or perhaps more properly, Brian Ó Nualláin), to his mum - born 100 years ago today. I read At Swim-Two-Birds 20 odd years ago, probably at the prompting of Anthony Burgess, and have read it at regular intervals since; read, 20 years ago, everything else I could find by O'Brien (and Myles na Gopaleen), loving it all, though not returning so often. Not sure why, as The Third Policeman and The Dalkey Archive are nearly as entertaining as the first novel. I dip into the Best of Myles more often, though usually not at length - an essay here, a catechism there....

What, as to the quality of solidity, imperviousness, and firmness, are facts?
And as to temperature?
What with what do they share this quality of frigidity?
To what do hard facts belong?
The situation.
And to what does a cold fact belong?
The matter.
What must we do to the hard facts of the situation?
Face up to the hard facts of the situation.
WHat does a cold fact frequently still do?
And what is notoriously useless as a means of altering the hard facts of the situation?
All the talk in the world.
Is this killing you?
It certainly is.

He was, his books are, truly delightful. All of them as funny as anything ever written, and just as clever - many a joke on novel making to be found. And could he turn a phrase - I could quote all his books whole, almost - though this bit, on drink, got me laughing hopelessly the first time I read it, and, well -
Innumerable persons with whom I had conversed had represented to me that spiritous liquors and intoxicants generally had an adverse effect on the senses and the body and that those who became addicted to stimulants in youth were unhappy throughout life and met with death at the end by a drunkard's fall, expiring ingloriously at the stair-bottom in a welter of blood and puke.
Ah, the musical flow of the language, the hint of parody (the language of temperance pamphlets and sermons), and that glorious swerve at the end. Beautiful, man. It'll live, Mr. Lamont, it'll live.

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