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The Hard Life : An Exegesis of Squalor by Flann O'Brien

The Hard Life : An Exegesis of Squalor by Flann O'Brien


New York : Pantheon Books, 1962. First American Edition. Hardcover. 179 pages ; 21 cm. Original $3.50 dust jacket. A clean copy with firm binding and unmarked pages.

"Mr. O'Brien's... gay humor is a perfect corrective to the lachrymose pomposities that infect our times." LONDON TIMES


WHEREIN A RARE, ironic wit presents the unique Mr. Collopy, his nephews, his disputatious crusade involving hydrometers, his visit to the Pope, and his bizarre demise.

Finbarr, the narrator, is the younger of two orphans who have been brought up by Mr. Collopy in the odor of good whisky and bad cooking. With admiration but moral unease, Finbarr watches his older brother Manus turn into a precocious young man of business, whose financial projects include a correspondence course in tightrope walking for daring Dubliners. Finbarr falls in love with a neighbor, Penelope, while "the brother" graduates to London, founds—on paper—his University Academy, and becomes an expert on all subjects, including the rheumatism of his uncle. He prescribes for him his own patent medicine, called Gravid Water, which proves indeed to have unexpectedly grave effects.

The climax, in Rome, is only one of the scenes of classic comedy that make The Hard Life a nonstop* Irish lark. Here is straight-faced entertainment that almost conceals in laughter its own devious and wicked satire.

FLNNN O'BRIEN was born Brian O'Nolan in County Donegal a few years before the First World War. In 1943 Time wrote: "On one Irish matter there is no argument in all Eire: the favorite Irish newspaper columnist is Brian O'Nolan, who writes j for Dublin's Irish Times O'Nolan, a novelist, playwright and civil servant, writes a six-a-week column titled Cruiskeen Lawn (The Little Overflowing Jug) under the pseudonym Myles na gCopaleen (means Myles of the Little Horses) " Since then, Flann O'Brien has let down none of his three personalities: he has continued to be Ireland's favorite spoofer and iconoclast in the Irish Times; he has been Secretary to three successive Ministers in the Irish Local Government and is Principal Officer of the Town Planning section; he has written several plays in Gaelic and has seen the extraordinary first novel that j he wrote in his youth, At Swim-Two-Birds (Pantheon, 1951), rhapsodically acclaimed in England when it was reissued there last year. '[ The Hard Life, written in a completely different style from that of his first, Joycean novel, represents the fourth dimension of this versatile personality.


The English View, 1961
"Most likely to be still readable in twenty years: The Hard Life." JOHN WAIN, "Books of the Year," The Observer

"The Hard Life is terse, tight-lipped, outrageous and marvelously funny. Unlike some Irish writers, Mr. O'Brien is never garrulous; words or wit never run away with him His 'deadpan' manner and economical style help to make The Hard Life one of the funniest novels I have read this year." ELIZABETH JENNINGS, The Listener

The American View, 1951
"This (At Swim-Two-Birds) is a comic masterpiece of modern Irish literature Flann O'Brien takes his conflicting story elements and odd assortment of characters and skillfully combines them into a whole that comes very close to being a work of genius." RICHARD HARRITY, New York Herald Tribune

The Welsh View, 1951
"This (At Swim-Two-Birds) is just the book to give your sister, if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl. What Mr. O'Brien will bring out next is nobody's business... but this alone establishes him in the forefront of contemporary Irish writing." DYLAN THOMAS The Irish View, 1961

"Had I never heard of Myles*, and were this (The Hard Life) the first book of Flann O'Brien's I had read, I would say we had among us a comic genius who would give Ireland her Tristam Shandy." TERENCE DE VERE WHITE, The Irish Times

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