Further Cuttings From Cruiskeen Lawn

Off the Bookshelf

Further Cuttings From Cruiskeen Lawn

by Flann O'Brien

Dalkey Archive Press, 189 pp., $11.95 (paper)

It has become a commonplace that comedies don't win the Academy Awards. The same prejudice is at work in the ranking of writers. E.M. Foster and Graham Greene are both generally esteemed above P.G. Wodehouse, although Wodehouse wrote like a genius, while Foster and Greene wrote in a workmanlike way about serious topics, suitable for later film dramatizations. In the same way, Flann O'Brien, whose gift was for the logical elongation of absurdity into universality, has been relegated to the status of "cult" writer. Surely, though, his novel The Third Policeman is the best 20th-century novel ever written about the private lives and peculiar spatio-temporal qualities of bicycles. The present book collects columns O'Brien wrote for The Irish Times in the Forties. I suppose it should be pointed out, before I further lament the obscurity of O'Brien, that, like many a heavily alcoholic writer, his best books were conceived under the influence of liquor and never exactly exported, soberly, to the page. However, it is the ruin of many a brilliant book to be written down, which is something O'Brien knew instinctively. Your average newspaper humorist generally never rises above the level of your average Family Circle cartoon, or a slow night on Fox TV. O'Brien, however, was capable of regaling his readers with whole columns in Latin -- much to the annoyance of all concerned. He also loved to initiate bizarre controversies, as in his columns on Einstein. O'Brien maintained that physics was not a science -- that, in fact, there was only one science, which was omniscience -- and that by some unaccountable quirk, probably having to do with the venality of educators, omniscience had been omitted from the curriculums of the schools of Dublin. This book, while not O'Brien's best, is still a nice, sustaining blast of bile and hilarity.

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