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No Laughing Matter: The Life & Times of Flann O'Brien.

Anthony Cronin. No Laughing Matter: The Life & Times of Flann O'Brien. Fromm, 1998. 260 pp. $29.95.

Originally published in England in 1989, Anthony Cronin's excellent biography of Flann O'Brien is finally available to readers in the United States. Like his more recent biography of Samuel Beckett, No Laughing Matter is a lively, well-researched, sympathetic, and gracefully written book which enters into the heart of Flann O'Brien, who is revealed as a complex, sad, and multitalented genius whose best work--At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, and The Dalkey Archive--can be spoken of in the same breath as Joyce's and Beckett's. Because he was once part of O'Brien's milieu in Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s, Cronin is able to provide an in-depth portrait of the man, his work, and his place in the Dublin literary scene of his time.

One of many compelling explorations is the importance of O'Brien's bilingualism. O'Brien's attitudes toward both language and form were learned from Irish literature and mythology but manifested themselves, primarily, in the fiction and newspaper columns written in English. It is also revealed that after the modest success of At Swim-Two-Birds, O'Brien had difficulty getting his work published and that this increased his dependence on the fast recognition derived from the newspaper columns written for the Irish Times, under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen. Over time, too much of O'Brien's energies were taken up by these columns and by his day job as a civil servant--and by unproductive time spent in pubs--so that there was little energy left for fiction. It was only after his death, when all of his work came into print, that he was finally seen as a major writer. Except for Anne Clissman's biography, Anthony Cronin's is the first major book to be written on O'Brien and it will be of great interest to old fans and will lead new readers to the fiction of a wonderful, very funny writer.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Wall, Eamonn
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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