Great article in the TLS by the poet David Wheatley marking the centenary of the birth of Flann O’Brien. I hadn’t heard of “Speak English Week” or “Myles Away from Dublin,” so always something to be learned about The Master.
O’Brien has long been seen as part of a literary trinity whose two other members are Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh, but in the final contribution to “Is It About a Bicycle?”, Frank McNally reminds us that he more naturally belongs in the company of Joyce and Beckett. O’Brien had a difficult relationship with Joyce, coming to resent the older writer’s assumed influence on his work, while on his only meeting with Beckett he disparaged Joyce as a “refurbisher of skivvies’ stories”. Lines of succession are rarely simple and, as critics have noted, O’Brien’s work relegates parents almost entirely in favour of uncles and brothers, while its principal model of parent–child relations is that of a character intent on destroying his author. Yet for all his resistance to appointed lines of succession, his canonical status is beyond dispute: the carnivalesque exuberance of At Swim-Two-Birds, the disturbing vision of The Third Policeman and the comic riches of “Cruiskeen Lawn” are the work of an undeniably major talent. If Joyce and Beckett are father and son, as McNally insists, O’Brien is the holy ghost of Irish modernist writing.