“If we don’t cherish the work of Flann O’Brien,” said Anthony Burgess, the late English novelist (he of A Clockwork Orange and Earthly Powers), “we are stupid fools who don’t deserve to have great men.” Burgess can rest in peace on that score, at least. Flann O’Brien’s work is becoming about as cherished as avant-garde literature can ever expect to be, and not just among the cognoscenti. Flann O’Brien is chic. University courses on his writings proliferate. Smart pubs in such disparate places as London, Boston, and Graz, Austria are named after him. Numerous Web sites offer slick packages of info on his life and works. And, the ultimate accolade: in the second season premiere of the television series Lost, a copy of O’Brien’s masterpiece, The Third Policeman, was briefly shown onscreen, resulting in a sudden uptick in sales—more than 15,000 copies in three weeks, equaling total sales of the previous six years—and enhanced name recognition for its author, who’d been dead four decades. Of course, he’d been dead a year by the time The Third Policeman was finally published in 1967, whereupon it was an instant critical success. An ironist to his bones, he would not have been surprised at that, but he might have been surprised at Everyman’s Library releasing, forty-one years later, all five of his novels—At Swim-Two Birds; The Third Policeman; The Poor Mouth; The Hard Life; and The Dalkey Archive—in one handsome volume. Such an honor implies literary respectability, which he scorned but yearned for, in the way of so many true originals.
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