April 1st is the 48th anniversary of the death of Brian O’Nolan, otherwise known as Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen, author of the great novels At Swim-Two-Birds, The Dalkey Archive and The Third Policeman and of the celebrated Cruiskeen Lawn articles in the Irish Times.
When Gert as a teenager first read At Swim-Two-Birds, “O brave new world, that has such creatures in it!” she thought. She met for the first time the philosopher de Selby, inventor of the theory that human existence is “an hallucination containing the secondary hallucinations of day and night” (the latter an unsanitary condition of the atmosphere owing to accretions of black air) , the mirror theory according to which, if you have a long enough series of mirrors, you can see yourself as a child (but not as a baby, owing to the curvature of the earth) and the Atomics theory that, by an exchange of atoms, people who spend a lot of time riding bicycles become half-person and half-bicycle. De Selby’s mysterious experiments involving vast quantities of water and long periods of hammering have never been fully explained, but are believed to have something to do with this Atomics theory.
In The Dalkey Archive we run into James Joyce, now repentant and spending his time writing pamphlets for the Catholic Truth Society, and become embroiled in a lengthy theological discussion with St Augustine of Hippo.
The Third Policeman, is, as the blurb on the Picador edition says, “a chilling, macabre tale of unending guilt.” Just as funny as the others, it is also a genuinely disturbing reflection on life, death, hell and eternity.
The Cruiskeen Lawn articles still make Gert cry with laughter. Here is The Brother’s plan to help Ireland get through the war:
We all go to bed for a week every month. Every single man, woman and child in the country. Cripples, drunks, policemen, watchmen – everybody. Nobody is allowed to be up. No newspapers, buses, pictures or any other class of amusement allowed at all. And no matter who you are you must be stuck inside the bed there. Readin’ a book, of course, if you like. But no getting up stakes.
(The Best of Myles, Picador 1968, p. 46).
The Escort Scandal involving unemployed ventriloquists, the Book Handling service for wealthy but illiterate patrons, the Myles Patent Ballet Pumps to help fat ballet dancers leap, the Bogus Telephone for those who like the social cachet of having a phone but don’t really want one….. the gems of Myles are endless.
Celebrated admirers of Flann O’Brien are numerous, and include Joyce himself, Borges, Grahame Greene and Anthony Burgess. If you haven’t read his books, you’re in for the treat of a lifetime.