Flann O’Brien

Bringing Out the Dead


Alan Moore interviewed by Pádraig Ó Méalóid.

Pádraig Ó Méalóid: We’ve been spending a fair bit of time in London, Deirdre and myself. We were over in the British Library last week. I’m doing research into Flann O’Brien, and The Cardinal and the Corpse, all of that.

Alan Moore: Aw, that sounds great. Yeah, I’ll tell you what, I would – this probably wouldn’t help you with your research but, have you read The Whispering Swarm? By Mike Moorcock? Yet?

The Cardinal & the Corpse


A Flanntasy in Several Parts by Pádraig Ó Méalóid.

The Cardinal and the Corpse, a 40-minute semi-documentary made in 1992 by Christopher Petit and Iain Sinclair for a late-night slot on Channel 4, described quite accurately by one commentator as ‘a show about books and bibliophiles in London,’ muddied the pseudonymous O’Brien waters further. When I first watched it, I had no idea what was going on in The Cardinal and the Corpse, or who most of the people in it—with the exception of Alan Moore and British science fiction writer Michael Moorcock—were. It seemed to be another story with several beginnings, several different threads running through it, none of which I had the slightest understanding of.

The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien


By Adam Rivett.

Flann O’Brien didn’t have much respect for the traditional novel as we’ve come to know and scarcely tolerate it. At-Swim-Two-Birds, his first, can barely get started before it’s wandering down the winding track of digression and self-conscious hyperbole, all tongue-in-cheek mythology and undergraduate linguistic bluster. His second (and arguably greatest) novel, The Third Policeman, trades in the virtuoso style of the debut for a plainer prose, but, indisputably, a bleaker world view. Play becomes despair, and youthful drunken rhetorical games grow surreal and morbid. There was, from the outset of O’Brien’s work, a fundamental impatience with received forms. The ‘ideal’ novel that is so often rewarded these days – realist, tightly plotted, tastefully ‘well written,’ and above all consistent – is not O’Brien’s. Yet Birds is one of the 20th Century’s great debuts. Its voice – sardonic, harshly original, comfortable in numerous registers – seems formed and confident from the start. Reading the small amount of pre-Birds material in the new collection The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien, then, gives us, among other things, the only clue we have as to how the man otherwise known as Brian O’Nolan got it so right so fast.