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The Bellinghman

#195 Flann O'Brien : The Dalkey Archive

Flann O'Brien : The Dalkey Archive

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Macmillan; New Ed edition (Sep 1976)
ISBN-10: 0330247999
ISBN-13: 978-0330247993
Category(ies): Fantasy/Humour

Originally published back in 1964, this is an odd, slim work. It's set in and near Dublin itself, with the resort of Dalkey the southernmost extremity of its action, and occasionally travels the coast north of Dublin to the same distance. It's got James Joyce as a character (post his death), but much concentrates on the strange De Selby, who purports to have invented a substance which can remove all the oxygen from the atmosphere of the world. As a tiny amount used in an airtight place can also cause spirits to appear from heaven, well ... I did say it was odd, didn't I? It's also far from clear whether any of the characters can actually be trusted to be telling, or even perceiving, the truth.

This partakes of a particular place and a particular era - the small bars and inconspicuous streets of the lesser parts of what used to be a much smaller city than it is now. That world is probably now gone almost entirely, and to that extent, this is a historical document, seeming further away from me culturally than modern works from countries the other side of the world (and the same is true of some British writers of the same era). Much of the humour passes me by (and that's true of O'Brien for me - his 'Best of Myles' has bits I love, and other bits that are in-jokes flogged to death decades before I read them). I liked it well enough, but I think it's ageing badly: much of its humour has evaporated as the character types portrayed tend to disappear, and I don't think O'Brien had the same genius that Spike Milligan did in finding a deeper humour in them.

How it'd work for people who've not driven the streets of Dalkey and Shankill, and can make some connection, I don't know. Perhaps better, since their imaginings are possible closer to O'Brien's places than the modern actuality.

In the end, I'm unconvinced.
Tags: books, reviews

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