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O’Flanngelists, Rejoice!

Everyman’s is savior.

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In his late twenties, the Irish novelist Flann O’Brien published the funniest novel ever written: At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), the story of a college student writing a novel about a man writing a novel whose characters start writing a novel about him. It anticipated most of the artistic innovations of the postmodern sixties, including metafiction and Monty Python, and inspired Dylan Thomas to write one of the great blurbs in the history of blurbing: “This is just the book to give your sister if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl!” O’Brien thought At Swim would make him famous; instead, it got squashed by the start of WWII and ended up selling a few hundred copies. His career fizzled in alcoholism, his work cycled in and out of print, and—denied the glory of either his great forebear Joyce or his contemporary Beckett—he died a bitter man. This relative obscurity has often made it difficult for his fans to spread the good word. But now Flann O’Brien evangelists—O’Flanngelists—have reason to rejoice. Everyman’s Library has issued his Complete Novels, which comes with the immortal honor of a golden fabric bookmark sewn into the binding. Along with At Swim, the collection includes at least two other classics: The Third Policeman, an absurd tour of hell complete with multipage footnotes (it recently got a bump in sales after its cover was shown on an episode of Lost), and The Poor Mouth, a hilariously exaggerated (and strangely touching) parody of squalid Gaelic memoirs: “Misadventure fell on my misfortune, a further misadventure fell on that misadventure and before long the misadventures were falling thickly on the first misfortune and on myself. Then a shower of misfortunes fell on the misadventures, heavy misadventures fell on the misfortunes after that and finally one great brown misadventure came upon everything, quenching the light and stopping the course of life.”


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