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Blog : Posts tagged with 'Flann O’Brien'

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Is it about a bicycle?

In which FP has been to see an operatic adaptation of that classic 20th century Irish novel The Third Policeman, so writes a review filled with in-jokes


Thursday night: to the Cube Cinema. Not for a film, but for an opera: The Third Policeman, adapted and produced by a chap called Ergo Phizmiz. Having read the novel, I was intrigued as to how a stage adaptation would work: of all the books I have read, it is…

The Plain People Of The Internet: By, there’s no footnotes yet. What are you doing there getting forty words or more into a blog post already and not writing any footnotes?

I was wondering when you people might turn up. Somehow, I thought you might. The footnotes were something I was wondering about, because they do rather alter the structure and format of the novel.* How would they be presented, in operatic form?

The Plain People of the Internet: So did they put signs up on the stage then? Cards with the footnote text on? Or a simultaneous narration chap type of thing?

Well, no. The works of de Selby*** were integrated into the main part of the libretto. But now, you’re getting me ahead of myself. I meant to say how faithful an adaptation it was, but you people there have led me down the line of criticism much quicker than I had intended. Everything is getting turned and turned about, and we’re getting to the wrong parts of the review first. Which is ironic, really. The Third Policeman is sometimes said to be a classic surrealist novel, or a classic postmodernist novel, but at heart it really has a quite straightforward start-to-finish plot. No fiddling around with flashbacks or more complicated temporal structures: it starts at the start, ends at the end, and gets there directly.**** Nice and straightforward to translate into a stage production, so long as you manage to replicate the mood. The mood, indeed, is the important thing.

The Plain People of the Internet: The key to the whole lock, stock and breadbasket!

Indeed, if you want to put it that way. There have been innumerable…

The Plain People of the Internet: We counted them.

You don’t know what I’m going to say!

The Plain People of the Internet: Ah, but we counted them. Five hundred and twenty-seven.

Don’t be silly. Nobody has counted them, and there aren’t five hundred and twenty seven. There have been innumerable…

The Plain People of the Internet: Well then, how would you know?

Shush now. There have been innumerable dream…

The Plain People of the Internet: Fünfhundert, sieben und zwanzig.

…dream sequences committed to literature, but none of them, to my ears, quite ring true. The Third Policeman is the only book I have read that does have the feel of a real, genuine dream. It has dream logic, hallucinatory dream logic, buildings with impossible perspectives or images that are two contradictory things simultaneously.***** It has dream-logic in the plot: the mechanics of Eternity or the machinations of the eponymous Policeman Fox.** And this is something that came across very well in the opera. The combination of live actors, Phizmiz’s music, projected video, shadow-puppetry and all, had a wonderfully dreamlike atmosphere to it, wonderful at capturing the tone of the book itself, both surreal and slightly frightening. Moreover, clearly the company had some finely-honed stagecraft skills: the projected video seemed to be a single stream, and the music was essentially continuous, so there was no space at all for the cast to miss any marks, whether acting on their own, as a group, or with partly-prerecorded dialogue. With several costume changes for two of the three actors, things offstage must have been hectic.

I would go back and see The Third Policeman again, but Thursday’s performance was the last one in Bristol. If you’d like to see it yourself, then it is coming up in the next few weeks in Rotterdam, Dartington and Bridport, according to Mr Phizmiz’s website. If you’re going to be around any of those places, I’d recommend it. Having read the novel, I was intrigued as to how a stage adaptation would work: of all the books I have read, it is…

The Plain People of the Internet: By, there it is: if you saw us coming, then we’re sure we saw that. And you never even told us: Is it about a bicycle?

* Someone once said, about this site, that the profusion of footnotes meant I wasn’t a very good writer. I see their point,****** but disagree. A heavily-footnoted work such as The Third Policeman is possibly as close as you can come to a hypertext narrative in book form, and reading it leads to one skipping up and down and flipping between two separate trains of thought, main text and footnote, as one goes. Rather, in other words, like browsing the Web with a dozen tabs all open at once, flipping to another whilst one waits for the first to load.

** Or, at least, the dreams I have have that sort of plot. Maybe not everyone’s dreams are the same.

*** A most distinguished and unique philosopher who is generally only to be found within the pages of O’Brien’s work.

**** It’s certainly not a postmodern novel when compared with Lanark, one of my favourite novels; although it did influence Lanark greatly – or apparently, at least. It says as much in the pages of Lanark, in a section where the book’s author lists all his various sources and inspirations, including some sources and inspirations which allegedly inspired passages which, if you look them up, don’t exist anywhere else in the novel. Now that’s postmodernism.

***** One of these – a cracked ceiling that is at the same time both just a pattern of cracks in plaster and a detailed map of the local area – was one of the few things in the book that didn’t seem to get mentioned at all in the opera.

The Plain People of the Footnote Internet: No Plain People either, but to be fair Mr O’Brien kept them to badger in his newspapery work. Now, here’s a thing. You know those horror films where your man thinks it’s all a dream, but then he wakes up and the evil axe-wiggler nightmare is still around and about the place? Is this the same here? You, reaading or writing on the outside of that screen there, thought that you had escaped into a footnote and had gotten yourself away from us, only for Plain People to jump in and interrupt your footnotes too? And does that mean we are about to tap you yourself there on your shoulder?

****** ie, that I can’t edit properly.

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The reading pile

In which we start reading something


Never mind about all the Books I Haven’t Read that I’ve been posting about here; since Christmas I’ve turned over a new leaf and started to cut the to-read pile down a bit. The way I’ve found time: spending half of my lunch hour every day with a book. Currently I’m in the middle of At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien, who…

The Plain People Of The Internet: Huzzah!

Oh, god, I should have known you lot would turn up if I mentioned O’Brien.

The Plain People Of The Internet: Why, it’s kind of expected.

Anyway, At Swim-Two-Birds is one of those books that I probably should have mentioned in Books I Haven’t Read, because it’s a classic of Irish literature. Flann O’Brien is one of those writers I’ve been meaning to write about here, but haven’t. His first novel is about a student writing a book, about a man writing a book, whose characters escape from his control.

The Plain People Of The Internet: Like this, you mean?

Well, sort of. But ruder.

Hopefully, I’m going to manage to finish it this time; and then get on with the rest of the to-read pile. There’s plenty to go at, after all.

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Books I Haven’t Read (part eight)

In which we fail to read “House Of Leaves” by Mark Z Danielewski


Books I Haven’t Read has come round once again. I considered leaving it for a while, after the last Book I Haven’t Read – the Author I Hadn’t Read managed to find it, and left a comment calling me “pathetic”. Ah, well, if you’re going to ego-surf, you have to be prepared for what you might find.

No risk of that happening with this post, though, because there’s already so much on the internet about this installment’s author, he’s unlikely to get around to discovering this place. Today’s Book I Haven’t Read is one that I’ve already warned you* would be coming. It’s House Of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski.

When I mentioned I’d be writing about House Of Leaves, I invited people who had read it to own up and tell me how they managed it. Nobody did. Whether that means noone has managed it, or, more likely, not very many people read this site, I’m not sure. No responses, though. I’m not the sort of person to get rid of books,** but a few years ago when I was very short of cash I did try taking some down to a local second-hand bookseller to see what I could get. House Of Leaves was turned away, unsellable. I ended up using it as a doorstop.

It has some good ideas in it, but in the end it’s just too hard a read. There are too many things packed in, too many different layers. It has to be unpacked like an onion; like an onion there seems to be nothing solid in the centre, but it has no flavour to make the unpacking worthwhile. Take the endless academic footnotes, for example. Flann O’Brien’s Third Policeman famously includes a parody of academic footnotes, long ones, telling a whole story in themselves. It’s done with a light, delicate, comedic touch, though. Danielewski’s parody of academic footnotes, with notes going on for page after page after page, is dull and heavy-handed.***

If you have managed to read House Of Leaves – all of it, without skipping bits – then I’d still like it if you let me know. I’d like to know if it’s worthwhile getting to the bottom of it all, if there is anything lurking to find in the middle. I strongly suspect there isn’t, though. I strongly suspect that was supposed to be the point.

* if you’re a regular reader

** Heresy! Heresy!

*** although the list of buildings in footnote 146 – which is spread out over eight complex and densely-typeset pages – does include one building that I used to live next-door to. Mind you, the list is so long, every reader of the book has probably lived within 100 yards of one of the listed buildings at some point.

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All The Dead Writers And Me: Jan Mark

In which we remember a great writer


This post has been a long time coming. Ever since I read her obituary, I’ve been meaning to write it, and been putting it off; and that was back in January.

Jan Mark is probably one of the writers who has meant the most to me over the years, at least in terms of understanding writing, and storytelling. She was mostly known as a children’s writer, producing prizewinning, wonderful work such as Thunder And Lightnings. My own favourite piece from her children’s books was a short story, “Nule”,* about two children who treat one of their house’s newel posts as if it’s human, then start to worry that it’s becoming slightly too human.

My favourite book of hers, though, is her single “adult” book, Zeno Was Here. It’s a love story, a very touching one, but it’s mostly about writing itself. It’s about the writing process, the nature of writing, and the feeling of being written about. It’s a novel about the structure of novels, and it’s the book which introduced me to the works of Flann O’Brien.** It’s about coincidence. It ends with the kind of bone-jarring unexpected coincidence that just doesn’t happen in novels; and then you remember that a hundred pages earlier, the characters were discussing just why those sort of events don’t happen in novels, when they crop up in real life all the time.

It’s quite an obscure book, and – as far as I know – has been out of print for ten years, at least. I found my copy of it by just the sort of coincidences that don’t happen in books: finding out that it existed, and going to my local library to see if they had a copy, I found it among the fifty or so tatty things on the “Withdrawn, For Sale” table. It’s only right, I suppose, that you should find a book about coincidence in that sort of way. If you find a copy yourself, read it, because it deserves to be better-known.

* from the collection Nothing To Be Afraid Of

** Another writer I’ve been meaning to post about, but haven’t

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End of the week

In which we’re glad it’s Friday


Hurrah, it’s Friday again. I have a busy busy weekend ahead, though, so I’ll probably be more tired on Monday than I am now.

I haven’t bothered to find out how the local elections went, but I have discovered one thing: one of the Labour candidates round here is Colleague M’s ex.* If he’s won, I’ll have to tell you more about him some time.

Tip for you, if you’re thinking of buying a digital camera: don’t get a Samsung. Big Dave did, and frankly it just didn’t work. It would crash, lock up, or just not take photos – when you went back to look at the memory card, nothing but blank black images. So it’s back at the shop now, and Big Dave has his money back. I tried to persuade him he should buy an expensive SLR, but he wasn’t having any of it.

I was thinking that my post about Flann O’Brien hasn’t made it onto the site yet – but then I remembered that neither has my planned post about the late Jan Mark. The problem with literary posts is that I feel I need to reread all the relevant books first, which really acts as nothing more than a delay…

The Plain People Of The Internet: Hang on a minute. If Jan Mark is the late Jan Mark, why isn’t Flann O’Brien late also, as they are both equally as dead as the other?

Myself: Shut up, you.

Anyway, time to get away and get on with the rest of the day. The sooner Friday’s over, the sooner it’s the weekend. I’m going off to a certain club again tomorrow** – hopefully I’ll talk to people this time.

* Recent readers might not have come across Colleague M – I haven’t heard much from her at all since she became Ex-Colleague M.

** Yes, that one.

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