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The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story About the Hard…
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The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story About the Hard Life (Irish Literature Series) (original 1941; edition 1996)

by Flann O'Brien, Ralph Steadman (Illustrator), Patrick Power (Translator)

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635615,256 (4.14)21
Member:matdanaher
Title:The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story About the Hard Life (Irish Literature Series)
Authors:Flann O'Brien
Other authors:Ralph Steadman (Illustrator), Patrick Power (Translator)
Info:Dalkey Archive Press (1996), Edition: 1st Dalkey Archive ed, Paperback, 128 pages
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The Poor Mouth by Flann O'Brien (1941)

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Showing 5 of 5
Flann O'Brien is hilarious. Read him now.

This one's much more straightforward than _At Swim-two-birds_, and I don't love it quite as much, but all you need to know is that he was sick of the fetishization of poverty-stricken "authentic" Gaelic life and culture, so he wrote this book, in Gaelic, spoofing such "studies". It's all a first-person account of a poverty-stricken Gael, a "bad story about the hard life" as the subtitle of the book claims.

But you'll laugh out loud, and often. Skip the look-at-me-woe-is-me self-serving inspirational dreck like _Angela's Ashes_, and pick up a work of genius. ( )
1 vote piccoline | Feb 5, 2014 |
I have quite the man-crush on Flann O’Brien. Call it a bro-mance if you wish. I’m making my way through all his work, including his newspaper columns. There’s something so anti-twenty-first-century about his use of multiple pseudonyms and personas in our look-at-me-age of “FACEBOOK STATUS: Pooping right now.” Here we have Brian O’Nolan who wrote his novels as Flann O’Brien and his newspaper column as a character Myles na Gopaleen (think mid-century Stephen Colbert). He even allegedly wrote letters to the editor under further pseudonyms complaining about his own writing.

He was a civil servant helping to support 10 brothers and sisters, and I believe never married. I picture him in grimy pubs, listening quietly to the voices around him as he drinks far too many tumblers of whiskey and smokes his teeth to the gums before walking steadily home, one foot in front of the other.

Above all, O’Brien is so goddamn funny he breaks the rules of goddamn respectable literature. Middle finger to conformity! And yet Joyce loved him. I think one element of his humor is a stoic acceptance of the unacceptable. Life is just so fucked up, and yet the likes of it shall never be seen again. Another element is a keen eye for the ridiculous in human nature.

Another quality that endears me to O’Brien: He was a risk-taker. He was an experimentalist who somehow kept one foot grounded in dirty reality. Most of his novels have meta-fictional qualities that pre-date post-modernism (or post-date pre-modernism, as the case may be.) Whether it’s acknowledging the author, reusing scenes or characters from previous novels, having characters who admit they’re fictional, or fictionalizing real people, O’Brien pushed the boundaries. Realistic narratives and characters are difficult to pull off, yes, great job. But I admire even more the author who can pull off an original form…i.e. ART…without being cold, abstract and irritatingly confusing.

He was also a lover of language who crafts his grammar and language with precision. The book in question here, The Poor Mouth, was originally written in (so the translation indicates) beautiful Gaelic. There is an effable quality of the punch in the mouth from O’Brien. His love and anger come across in every sentence. And yet, there is a sense of humility as well. That steady walk home that we all take, walking steadily to our deaths.

The Poor Mouth is one of O’Brien’s less meta-fictional novels although it definitely exceeds realism into a state of satire. It’s couched as the autobiographical story of one of the poorest Gaels in all of Gaeltacht, one Bonaparte O’Coonassa. Although, everyone in town is so poor that …well, that they’re Irish. It’s ridiculously funny until at the very end when the weight of the poverty sinks into tragedy at the hands of the English. It rains every day and night, they sleep with the pigs and cows, and they eat nothing but spuds. It’s a Gaelic life for me.

Here is a sample to whet your appetite:

I was born in the West of Ireland on that awful winter’s night—may we all be healthy and safe!—in the place called Corkadoragha and in the townland named Lisnabrawshkeen. I was very young at the time I was born and had not aged even a single day; for half a year I did not perceive anything about me and did not know one person from the other. Wisdom and understanding, nevertheless, come steadily, solidly and stealthily into the mind of every human being and I spent that year on the broad of my back, my eyes darting here and there at my environment. I noticed my mother in the house before me, a decent, hefty, big-boned woman; a silent, cross, big-breasted woman. She seldom spoke to me and often struck me when I screamed in the end of the house. The beating was of little use in stopping the tumult because the second tumult was worse than the first one and, if I received a further beating, the third tumult was worse than the second one. However, my mother was sensible, level-headed and well-fed; her like will not be there again.

I leave you with the same recommendations I made in my other O’Brien review (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/984107.Stories_and_plays). If you only have time for one book, At Swim-Two-Birds is his masterpiece. If I could read them all over again like a virgin, touched for the very first time—I’d read The Dalkey Archive first, followed by The Third Policemen (where he gets supremely weird), followed by At Swim. The Hard Life is quite hilarious too…oh, see I can’t stop. ( )
  David_David_Katzman | Nov 26, 2013 |
Often hilarious; a great parody. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Jun 24, 2013 |
This is a strange little book. Of course, it is by Flann O’Brien, so why should anything but strange be expected. It is the story of the life of Bonaparte O’Coonassa, born to great poverty in Ireland. Bonaparte is not really anyone we like. He just exists in his poverty. We follow Bonaparte as he lives his life, finding good things, finding bad things, just finding things, because life just happens to him.

Since I read this in English, separated by 70 years, I know I missed much of what this book says and the inherent humor. Yet, it is still just strange enough and funny enough to enthrall. And so I enjoyed it immensely. There are strange footnotes and strange drawings, and the entire thing parodies styles of writing with I am familiar and others not so much so.

But it is fun. And it is in the vein one expects from O’Brien. I don’t know that I would use this book to introduce the reader to O’Brien, but then, which of his books would be a good “introduction”? Better, as with this book, to just jump in and hope you can swim. ( )
2 vote figre | Sep 4, 2011 |
Coruscating satire on the Gaeltacht and the Gaelic revival by a master of the genre. Why is he still relatively unknown in America? ( )
1 vote franx | Apr 13, 2009 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Flann O'Brienprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Power, Patrick C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steadman, RalphIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Ich schreibe die Angelegenheiten, die in diesem Dokument abgehandelt werden sollen, nieder, denn das nächste Leben nähert sich geschwind - fern bleibe uns das Böse, und möge mich der Geist des Übels nicht als Bruder betrachten! - und auch weil es unseresgleichen nie wieder geben wird.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586087486, Paperback)

First published in Gaelic in 1941 under the title "An Beal Bocht", this book was translated into English in 1973. A parody of the Gaelic peasant writings of the Irish revival, the book features Bonaparte O'Coonassa - who tells the story of his life. By the author of "The Dalkey Archive".

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:07 -0400)

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