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Flann O’Brien: The Hard Life

This novel reads as an Irish realist novel, looking, certainly to Dubliners for its inspiration, though, of course, O’Brien does manage to include both his trademark satire and his improbable events. Once again it is the autobiography of an orphan. Finbarr and his brother Manus are sent to live with Mr. Collopy after their mother dies. Mr. Collopy is friends with a priest called Kurt Fahrt and the pair have long discussions about the Jesuits, public toilets for women and other topics. Manus starts getting involved in various dubious mail-order schemes and eventually has to move to England, to escape the police. One of his activities involves patent medicine. When Mr. Collopy suffers from rheumatism, he sends Finnbar some Gravid Water for Mr. Collopy. The result is that Mr. Collopy becomes heavier while staying the same physical size. He heads off to Rome for an audience with the Pope, in the hope of a cure. The Pope, hearing him talk about his obsession with public toilets for women, thinks he is mad and does not help him. He later falls through a stairway to his death. This novel, while amusing and worthwhile is certainly not as interesting as his previous ones.

Publishing history

First published 1961 by MacGibbon & Kee