Stories and Plays
Flann O’Brien
Viking 208 pp. $8.95.

The Flann phenomenon, which with the publication of Stories and Plays has probably reached its culmination, is composed of one part enigma, one part local reputation, and a dollop of delayed reaction. The phenomenon has its crucible in Dublin, where it has been fermenting for almost four decades, the assumption being that it wouldn’t travel well. Irish defenders of Flann O’Brien (ne Brian Nolan, alias Myles na Gopaleen) still grouse that Americans, who have over-embraced James Joyce, have not opened their arms to their local favorite. If the public house intelligentsia of Baile atha Cliath think that Joyce has been vivisected to feed American academics, they may be surprised to learn that more Ph.D. dissertations have been written on Flann O’Brien in the past ten years than on Joyce during the decade after his death.

America is a vast land of consumers, and despite Viking, Press’ determination to supply our voraciousness—this publication follows hard upon their offer of The Poor Mouth in a uniform edition—there is just not enough Flann available to supply our appetites, and probably no more forthcoming. The complete inventory, under the Flann O’Brien nom de plume, consists of At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), The Hard Life (1961), The Dalker Archive (1964), and The Third Policeman (1967), four novels in English. The dates given are those of publication, and in themselves underline one of the pathetic aspects of the author’s career: a first effort by a young prodigy instantly acclaimed by a-coterie of admirers, the impossibility of publishing the next work during the war years, the belated “second debut,” a cannibalized novel emerging from the treasures in the trunk, and the posthumous product of that trunk already redolent of camphor balls. Now the fugitive pieces, Stories and Plays, a skimpy umbrella cloaking the fragment of a novel, two vignettes, an essay, a one-act sketch, and a full-length drama, the theater pieces bearing the alternate pseudonym of Myles na Gopaleen. (The man himself died prematurely, and this is the bottom of the steamer trunk.)

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