Flann O’Brien, along with Joyce and Beckett, is part of the holy trinity of modern Irish literature. His five novels–collected here in one volume–are a monument to his inspired lunacy and gleefully demented genius.
O’Brien’s masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds, is an exuberant literary send-up and one of the funniest novels of the twentieth century. The novel’s narrator is writing a novel about another man writing a novel, in a Celtic knot of interlocking stories. The riotous cast of characters includes figures “stolen” from Gaelic legends, along with assorted students, fairies, ordinary Dubliners, and cowboys, some of whom try to break free of their author’s control and destroy him.
The narrator of The Third Policeman, who has forgotten his name, is a student of philosophy who has committed murder and wanders into a surreal hell where he encounters such oddities as the ghost of his victim, three policeman who experiment with space and time, and his own soul (who is named “Joe”).
The Poor Mouth, a bleakly hilarious portrait of peasants in a village dominated by pigs, potatoes, and endless rain, is a giddy parody aimed at those who would romanticize Gaelic culture. A naïve young orphan narrates the deadpan farce The Hard Life, and The Dalkey Archive is an outrageous satiric fantasy featuring a mad scientist who uses relativity to age his whiskey, a policeman who believes men can turn into bicycles, and an elderly, bar-tending James Joyce. With a new Introduction by Keith Donohue
Flann O’Brien is the pseudonym of Brian O’Nolan, an Irish novelist and political commentator who was born in 1911 in County Tyrone and raised in Dublin. He entered the Irish civil service in 1937 and formally retired in 1953. From… More about Flann O’Brien
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“A real writer, with the true comic spirit.” —James Joyce
“Unquestionably a major author . . . Flann O’Brien assault[s] your brain with words, style, magic, madness, and unlimited invention.” —Anthony Burgess
“O’Brien was one of the comic geniuses of the 20th century.” —BOSTON GLOBE
“At Swim-Two-Birds has remained in my mind ever since it first appeared as one of the best books of our century. A book in a thousand . . . in the line of Ulysses and Tristram Shandy.” —Graham Greene
“At Swim-Two-Birds is both a comedy and fantasy of such staggering originality that it baffles description and very nearly beggars our sense of delight.” —CHICAGO TRIBUNE
“[The Third Policeman is] the funniest book ever written . . . and scariest.” —Charles Baxter, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
“The Poor Mouth shows a comic genius working close to his best capability. Humor of this quality, this intensity, is very rare; as witty in its language as in its invention, it cries to be read aloud.” —NEWSWEEK