After I read The Dalkey Archives, I went right into The Third Policeman. I have since run thru At Swim-Two-Birds. I wish to read more of O’Brien’s stuff, but what I got is fine for now.
Any number of felicities and oddities occur. Hugh De Selby appears in both Dalkey and Policeman, or sort of. He’s an actual character in Dalkey, but a much-quoted and studied author in Policeman. And it’s ‘De’ in the one, ‘de’ in the other. His writing’s, which the nameless protagonist in Policeman studies and comments on, are strange and fantastical. The author and the character do not seem exactly the same person. Still, the books pair somewhat.
The jumbling of human and bicycle molecules is fretted in both books. There are, as well, exact passages repeated in both. Dalkey has a fairly normative narrative while Policeman rambles wildly, albeit within narrative constraints. The comic impulse stands forward, but so does a thrilled, dashing erudition, on a pace with Joyce in both cases. Both books are tamer, if that’s a fair word, than Swim.
Swim, now, that’s a show off piece. You’d think he was actively trying to beat Joyce at his own game, the young buck. The shifts in narrative tone and the radiating of meta narratives seems consciously Joycean. Yet it all seems well in hand for O’Brien, with high hilarity.
I love this stuff!
O’Brien carries his word slightly, like few writers. Bejesus, he’s got a vocabulary, from several languages. This quare civil servant.
O’Brien spends, it seems, too much time with Sweeny, but the passage still seems gorgeously written, thick with the Celtic twilight. The Irish stuff is rendered both with awe and satire.It puts the scale to the ridiculous working class poet brought in later, who writes for the ordinary man (poems about porter).
The story is wonderful in entailing a young student/writer who writes a story and how the characters of the story conspire to break free from the author’s tyranny. See, when they are not being used in the story, they just hang out. They dope the writer so that they can be free. And so forth. These ordinary people talk a breathtaking ordinary talk. The pleonasms of conversation bubble out in a Joycean sort of clarity and vigour. O’Brien sports around with goofy ideas, like the cowpunching cowboys that are invested into Dublin fair city, dime store cowboy tales with an Irish brogue. It’s like a Saturday Night Live bit prompted into hilarious depth. O’Brien places it full and bright.
I have to admit that I wonder about Joyce. Dubliners and Portrait stand neatly enough. Ulysses is delightful in fullness, sharpness, majesty, and humour. Finnegans Wake, I’m not sure that doesn’t mark a stop point. I’ve only poked at it, and enjoy it as such, but I’m on the skids for studying it. I have no picture of what’s next. O’Brien doesn’t seem to batch himself into a corner so. I don’t mean to put them at odds, nor to diminish Joyce. The real enemy is just the same old tiresomeness of narrative to a happy conclusion, or downright drudging “realism” made of whole cloth. It’s the flights that count.