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being devoured by the native black population of the Caribbean who she has been told are “little more than cannibals.” Later, when the blacks who had previously come aboard the ship depart, Nora speaks ironically of “squeezing oV a few tears after them.” Alice’s journal lacks these one-liners but suggest similar attitudes. Alice records in one of her Wrst entries how she “laughed heartily” at Nora’s bout of seasickness but “soon got cause to regret [her] merriment” when she too was stricken with the disease. From Dublin to New Orleans presents a largely untold immigration experience. Ultimately, it is the overtone of fresh enthusiasm expressed in the journals of Nora and Alice that makes this book so cogent. The same vitality is mirrored in the prose of Hoy and MacCurtain, who engage their subject with a similar sense of the excitement that arises from discovery. —Matthew L. Jockers Flann O’Brien’s Exorbitant Novels, by Thomas F. Shea, pp. 184, Lewisburg , PA: Bucknell University Press, 1992, $32.50. Unlike his literary incubus James Joyce, who reportedly admitted writing Finnegans Wake “To keep the critics busy for three hundred years,” Flann O’Brien never seemed comfortable in his lifetime with critical attention, seemingly agreeing with Patrick Kavanagh’s depiction of the lethal parasitism of academic criticism in particular : “Who Killed James Joyce? / I, said the commentator, / I killed James Joyce / For my graduation.” As early as 1943, for an article in Time magazine, O’Brien apparently cooperated with his interviewer only to the extent of providing him with what Hugh Kenner has labeled Irish Facts—“deWnable as anything they will tell you in Ireland, where you are told a great deal and had best assume a demeanor of wary appreciation.” Even earlier, however, in his invention of a scholarly disputation between Professors Unternehmer and Du Fernier concerning the sanity of his own character Dermot Trellis in the concluding pages of his novel At SwimTwo -Birds (1939), O’Brien had reXected on the inherent futility—if not inanity— of most critical enterprises: “Was Hamlet mad? Was Trellis mad? It is extremely hard to say. Was he a victim of hard-to-explain hallucinations? Nobody knows. Even experts do not agree on these vital points.” Probably, then, O’Brien—Brian O’Nolan as he was properly known—would Wnd the recent proliferation of articles, dissertations, and books on his life and his work disconcerting at best. A mere cottage trade by Joycean standards, the burgeoning O’Brien industry nonetheless includes interesting and revealing biographical studies by Peter Costello and Peter Van De Kamp, Flann O’Brien: An Illustrated Biography, (1987) and by Anthony Cronin, No Laughing Matter, (1989) and an introductory literary study by Sue Asbee, Flann O’Brien, (1991). More expository than BOOK REVIEWS 185 argumentative in their respective focuses on O’Brien, these books identify or clarify O’Brien’s place in Irish letters and beyond. They also help to elevate O’Brien beyond the “cult” status that he attained even while alive and that still persists today despite the universal availability of all his major works and many of his minor writings as well. Books like these establish the need for more speciWc studies of O’Brien like Thomas F. Shea’s Flann O’Brien’s Exorbitant Novels. Slim but provocative, this monograph departs from the generalist tendency in extended discussions of a complex and subtle oeuvre. Limiting his focus almost exclusively to how “O’Brien’s fascination with the properties of language is, in many respects, the center of his concern as a novelist” (51), Shea argues with great conviction that from his literary exercises and experiments published in the early 1930s in Comhthrom Féinne (a student publication at University College, Dublin) and Blather (O’Brien’s own magazine) through his fourth novel written in English (published in 1964, two years before his death), O’Brien maintained a decided inclination toward the “imaginative subversion,” the parody, and the “self-conscious consideration of style as performance” (18) that most readers associate most immediately with At Swim-TwoBirds . Appropriately enough, the Wrst three chapters of Shea’s study establish a convincing line of development between O’Brien...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 185-187
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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