Category: Archive

Book Review Miles and miles of Myles — ripe for rediscovery

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Kevin Houlihan

THE BEST OF MYLES, by Flann O’Brien (Myles na gCopaleen). Dalkey Archive Press. 400pp, $13.95.

In the last few years here in New York City there has been a resurgence of the Irish Public House. It would appear that many of these licensed premises arrive as a ready-to-assemble kit, much like a cheap TV trolley or a set of shelves, complete with unnaturally dark mahogany, pre-chipped tiles, ready-stained countertops, air fresheners that fill the air with the smell of burning turf and damp woolen overcoats, right down to the regular at his appointed stool who never opens his overcoat or removes his cap but has a mighty knowledge of horse racing, stomach disorders, and Italian tenors of the 1930s.

Of course, where there are public houses, there are bores. Most bores are universal. One of the worst that New York City has to offer, who usually appears when you are just about to be evicted from your apartment and have to face the extortion that is the "market," is the I Found A Three-Bedroom Apartment In Greenwich Village With A Working Fireplace And A Roof Garden For $128 A Month variety.

Anyway, there I was last Thursday taking advantage of my local public house and communing with my inner voices with the help of a large pint of cool black porter and a generous measure of blended malt when I was waylaid by one of the worst bores of a long time. I was just about to open "The Best of Myles" by Flann O’Brien (Myles na gCopaleen), which lay before me on the bartop when I was accosted by the dreaded You Know What I’m Going To Tell You, I Read Flann O’Brien When Half of You Little Gits Weren’t Even Out of Short Trousers And Hadn’t Even Heard of Him bore. Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is a bore to be given a berth of the widest variety available. This is the reductionist bore who will claim that you have no right to whistle Mozart tunes unless you have been to Vienna, preferably before World War II, or the "emergency," as it was known in Mother Ireland.

This bore is likely to tell you that anyone who was not reared 14 to a room in a rain-drenched shack with a tin roof and an outside toilet with hard-handed parents of sporadic sobriety has no business enjoying the works of Flann O’Brien. This is not so! This is patent nonsense! Pay no attention to this odious bore! Do not let him deter you from immediately rushing out and picking up "The Best of Myles," a selection of O’Brien’s Cruiskeen Lawn columns for the Irish Times up to the time of his death in 1966, republished by the Dalkey Archive Press. This is a wonderful introduction to one of the finest comic writers of the 20th century. The sheer originality of O’Brien’s imagination is dazzling and it is couched in a masterly and crafted prose that is a joy to read. Brilliantly funny and mercilessly intolerant of pretension, hypocrisy or self-importance, the columns included range from Myles’s patented book-handling service for "no-brows," which will dog ear and add erudite marginal notes, to the library of those too lazy or stupid to read his many dialogues with "The Plain People of Ireland," the Na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliche, the brilliant parodies of tortuous 19th century wit to be found in the anecdotes of Keats and Chapman, and, of course, his wonderful anatomy of bores to which some of the foregoing is a small homage.

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If this book should lead anyone previously unfamiliar with Flann O’Brien to the dizzying and marvelously funny "The Third Policeman," the wonderful parody and subversion of paddywhackery that is "The Poor Mouth," or the topsy-turvy brilliance of "At Swim Two Birds," then, unlike my resentful friend the Bore, I feel nothing but envy, envy of the joy of discovering O’Brien for the first time, envy of this special and wonderful experience that can only be approached by the joy of rereading him.

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