K has been given a short sabbatical to ponder the error of his ways. That gives me a chance to write about some of the things I have been reading over the past week. In fact I’ll try to make this a weekly entry.
I finished reading Harriet Says by Beryl Bainbridge a few days ago and, as is my wont, I then started scrolling through the titles on my Kobo to see what struck my fancy (a fancy which is sometimes difficult to strike). I spent a few minutes reading the first few pages of The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter Thompson but, no, it was fiction I wanted.
A bit more scrolling and I came across a book by Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. I’ve read one novel by Tartt, The Little Friend, which I loved. It’s the story of a murder, of a little boy found hanging in a tree, and of his sister’s efforts to unmask the murderer. Now it’s a few years since I read it but I remember being struck by its richness and depth and, like many of the books I love, I’ll read it again at some point. I did start one of her other books, The Secret History, but struggled to get into it. That doesn’t mean I won’t read it eventually; I remember starting Catch 22 a number of times before it clicked. So, The Goldfinch? I’ve read about 50 pages (it’s a longish book), and it’s gripping. But I realised that, after Beryl Bainbridge, I wanted something more familiar, something nearer to home.
So I’m rereading The Hard Life by Flann O’Brien. If you’ve never heard of him, he was an Irish author who wrote some of the strangest, funniest, most post-modern novels you could wish to read. The Hard Life is funny, but it’s more conventional; it’s the story of two boys growing up in Dublin at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s very Irish and very funny and pokes fun at the Irish society of the time. Influenced by James Joyce, it is semi-autobiographical, taking place in parts of Dublin which O’Brien (or to give him his real name Brian O’Nolan) , knew well, with characters in the book based on real people (Mr. Collopy, for example, is based on his former master in the civil service, Sean MacEntee). O’Brien himself believed that The Hard Life was “a very important book and very funny. Its apparently pedestrian style is delusive”. It’s many years since I last read any of his books and I think, now that I’ve started, I’ll reread the rest.
Thinking about O’Brien, about thirty years ago my wife and I were on a camping holiday in Ireland and, one day, we decided to drive up into the hills somewhere between Dublin and the West Coast (I can’t be any more precise because it’s a long time ago and my memory only holds shadows and glimpses before about Thursday last). We were in a borrowed minivan and broke down at the top of a hill near a café and gift shop. Stranded there, waiting for a breakdown lorry, we went to look round the gift shop. They had some books, and in amongst them I found Flann O’Brien: an illustrated biography by Peter Costello and Peter van de Kamp (I just looked on Amazon and you can get a copy for 1p).
Its well worth getting hold of if you are interested in O’Brien, especially because of the many photos, drawings etc. (there’s even a copy of his application for a place at University College, Dublin in 1929).
James Joyce said of O’Brien, with reference to At Swim Two Birds, “That’s a real writer with a true comic spirit,” and who could argue with that?