Books by O'Brien, Flann [Brian O'Nolan]
- O'Brien, Flann [Brian O'Nolan].
The Dalkey Archive.
Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press,  1993.
What a fine book to be reading on Saint Patrick's Day! Flann O'Brien
(a nom de plume of Brian O'Nolan, who
also wrote under the name Myles na gCopaleen, among others) is
considered one of the greatest Irish authors of humor and satire in
the twentieth century; James Joyce called him “A real writer,
with the true comic spirit.” In addition to his novels, he
wrote short stories, plays, and a multitude of newspaper columns in
both the Irish and English languages. The Dalkey
Archive is a story of
mind-bending fantasy and linguistic acrobatics yet so accessible
it sucks the reader into its alternative reality almost
unsuspecting. A substantial part of the material is recycled from
Third Policeman (January 2004) which, although completed in 1940,
the author despaired of ever seeing published (it was eventually
published posthumously in 1967). Both novels are works of
surreal fantasy, but The Dalkey Archive is more
conventionally structured and easier to get into, much
as John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit
stands in relation to his own earlier and more experimental
Stand on Zanzibar.
The mad scientist De Selby, who appears offstage and in extensive and
highly eccentric footnotes in The Third Policeman, is a
key character here, joined by Saint Augustine and James Joyce. The
master of malaprop, Sergeant Fottrell and his curious
“mollycule” theory about people and bicycles is here as
well, providing a stolid counterpoint to De Selby's relativistic pneumatic
theology and diabolical designs. It takes a special kind of genius to
pack this much weirdness into only two hundred pages. If you're
interested in O'Brien's curious career,
biography is an excellent starting point which contains no
spoilers for any of his fiction.
- O'Brien, Flann [Brian O'Nolan]. The Third Policeman. Normal,
IL: Dalkey Archive Press,  1999. ISBN 1-56478-214-X.
- This novel, one of the most frequently recommended books by visitors to
this page, was completed in 1940 but not published until
1967, a year after the author's death. Perhaps the world
was insufficiently weird before the High Sixties!
This is one strange book; in some ways it anticipates
surreal new wave science fiction such as John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar and The Jagged Orbit, but O'Brien
is doing something quite different here which I'll refrain from
giving away. Don't read the (excellent) Introduction before
you read the novel—there is one big, ugly spoiler therein.