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The Dalkey Archive (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

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From the author of the classic novel ‘At-Swim-Two-Birds’ comes this ingenious tale which follows the mad and absurd ambitions of a scientist determined to destroy the world. Flann O'Brien's third novel, 'The Dalkey Archive' is a riotous depiction of the extraordinary events surrounding theologian and mad scientist De Selby's attempt to destroy the world by removing all the From the author of the classic novel ‘At-Swim-Two-Birds’ comes this ingenious tale which follows the mad and absurd ambitions of a scientist determined to destroy the world. Flann O'Brien's third novel, 'The Dalkey Archive' is a riotous depiction of the extraordinary events surrounding theologian and mad scientist De Selby's attempt to destroy the world by removing all the oxygen from the atmosphere. Only Michael Shaughnessy, 'a lowly civil servant', and James Joyce, alive and well and working as a barman in the nearby seaside resort of Skerries, can stop the inimitable De Selby in his tracks.


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From the author of the classic novel ‘At-Swim-Two-Birds’ comes this ingenious tale which follows the mad and absurd ambitions of a scientist determined to destroy the world. Flann O'Brien's third novel, 'The Dalkey Archive' is a riotous depiction of the extraordinary events surrounding theologian and mad scientist De Selby's attempt to destroy the world by removing all the From the author of the classic novel ‘At-Swim-Two-Birds’ comes this ingenious tale which follows the mad and absurd ambitions of a scientist determined to destroy the world. Flann O'Brien's third novel, 'The Dalkey Archive' is a riotous depiction of the extraordinary events surrounding theologian and mad scientist De Selby's attempt to destroy the world by removing all the oxygen from the atmosphere. Only Michael Shaughnessy, 'a lowly civil servant', and James Joyce, alive and well and working as a barman in the nearby seaside resort of Skerries, can stop the inimitable De Selby in his tracks.

30 review for The Dalkey Archive (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    What is hagiarchy? Hagiarchy is government by saints and holy men. I guess this political regime exists in Heaven… The protagonist of The Dalkey Archive encounters many eccentric beings: scientific, theological, religious, antic and even otherworldly. When he meets a spectre of Saint Augustine on a visit from Heaven he learns some quite peculiar things about holy manners… I invented obscene feats out of bravado, lest I be thought innocent or cowardly. I walked the streets of Babylon with low compa What is hagiarchy? Hagiarchy is government by saints and holy men. I guess this political regime exists in Heaven… The protagonist of The Dalkey Archive encounters many eccentric beings: scientific, theological, religious, antic and even otherworldly. When he meets a spectre of Saint Augustine on a visit from Heaven he learns some quite peculiar things about holy manners… I invented obscene feats out of bravado, lest I be thought innocent or cowardly. I walked the streets of Babylon with low companions, sweating from the fires of lust. When I was in Carthage I carried about with me a cauldron of unrealized debauchery. God in his majesty was tempting me. But Book Two of my Confessions is all shocking exaggeration. I lived within my rough time. And I kept the faith, unlike a lot more of my people in Algeria who are now Arab nincompoops and slaves of Islam. – Look at all the time you squandered in the maw of your sexual fantasies which otherwise could have been devoted to Scriptural studies. Lolling loathsome libertine! – I was weak at the time but I find your condescension offensive. You talk of the Fathers. How about that ante-Nicene thooleramawn, Origen of Alexandria? What did he do when he found that lusting after women distracted him from his sacred scrivenery? I’ll tell you. He stood up, hurried out to the kitchen, grabbed a carving knife and – pwitch! – in one swipe deprived himself of his personality! Ah? – Yes. Let us call it heroic impetuosity. – How could Origen be the Father of Anything and he with no knackers on him? Answer me that one. – We must assume that his spiritual testicles remained intact. Do you know him? – I can’t say I ever met him in our place. And all that eccentricity makes the main character wonder what will happen if a couple of such oddballs finally meet… …how would two exquisitely cultivated but distracted minds behave on impact with each other? Would they coalesce in some quiet and fruitful way, or clash in murderous disarray? The heavenly ideals are perfect… But our prosaic earthly doings just don’t let us go.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    This is the third title I’ve read by Flann O’Brien in as many weeks, and as it happens, I read it alongside the third book in François Rabelais’ Gargantua series, Le tiers livre (The Third Book). Can I find further correspondences in that unlikely set of circumstances? Have you three minutes to waste… While I admit that the possibility of finding a correspondence may seem logic-defying at first glance given that Rabelais’ book is set in the 1500s in France and O’Brien’s is set in the 1900s in Ire This is the third title I’ve read by Flann O’Brien in as many weeks, and as it happens, I read it alongside the third book in François Rabelais’ Gargantua series, Le tiers livre (The Third Book). Can I find further correspondences in that unlikely set of circumstances? Have you three minutes to waste… While I admit that the possibility of finding a correspondence may seem logic-defying at first glance given that Rabelais’ book is set in the 1500s in France and O’Brien’s is set in the 1900s in Ireland, that the former is peopled with a cast of giants and magicians and the latter with some distinctly ordinary citizens of Dublin, when you give the problem a third glance, and especially after a third tumbler of your preferred brew, you come up with some odd convergences - which bears out the theory that truth can be verified through creation or invention as much as through observation. The hero of Rabelais’ third book is called Panurge and the narrative is concerned almost entirely with searching for an answer to a question that is preoccupying him: ought he to marry, and if he were to, what would be the chances that his wife would cheat on him? In his search for the correct answer to this very tricky question, he consults an entire bookfull of wise and foolish people, and drinks bucketfulls of wine. The hero of Dalkey Archive, which incidentally is a partial reprise of O'Brien's then unpublished Third Policeman, is called Mick, and at the beginning of the story, he is pondering marriage to his girlfriend Mary. By the end of the book, that question has been resolved, alongside the question of whether Mary is likely to be a faithful wife or not. In the meantime, Mick has consulted quite a variety of foolosophers, and spent much time with a glass in his hand, but in contrast to Panurge, he appears to be preoccupied all along with something completely other than marriage, though that ‘something’ disappears in a puff of smoke just before the end of the book. So while the two books converge quite a bit, they fall short of a complete overlap. In any case, a complete overlap would probably have been too logic-defying a coincidence even for a lover of logic-defying coincidences like myself. I sometimes draw the line at complete absurdity. ___________________________ However, Mick’s puff-of-smoke preoccupations are not far off complete absurdity in and off themselves thanks to O’Brien’s ability to laugh at such axioms as 'knowing where to draw the line' (he resembles Rabelais in this): a lot of the action of Dalkey Archive is set in the verdant, vertical and vertiginous vicinity of Vico Road in the high and hilly hamlet of Dalkey, just south of Dublin city. On the very first page of the book, O’Brien makes a link between Vico Road and eighteenth-century philosopher Giambattista Vico whose cyclical view of history provided the framework for James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. So the reader is warned from the first page that Joyce is relevant to this book, and when Mick soon develops a fascination for Joyce's whereabouts, we are not surprised in spite of the fact that Joyce has been dead for fifteen years at the time of this story (see the update from August 6th). But Mick is also preoccupied with a substance which a physicist called De Selby has invented in order to tamper with time. In the course of planning to steal the substance from De Selby by breaking into his house in the dead of night, Mick loses track not only of his girlfriend's activities but also of his best friend's whereabouts - exactly the scenario Panurge envisaged happening to himself centuries before and which caused him such anxiety that he needed a dose of a certain mysterious grass-like substance. How's that for an unlikely parallel? I'm guessing you've had enough unlikely parallels for one review. No? Ok, here’s another absurd scenario: this one concerns the new goodreads homepage. I consulted De Selby about the possibility of turning the clock back and restoring the old format. He says there may be a way but it won't be easy. It would require all you goodreads librarians to break in during the dead of night and remove every book blurb on the site as well as all those 'continue reading' links which send us around in crazy circles at the moment. While that is happening, De Selby engages to commandeer the complete stock of Amazon advertising material, Oprah included, and send the whole lot back in time to Rabelais to help publicize his third, fourth and fifth books which didn't sell as well as the first two. With the free space available, the rest of us would then be able to rearrange the furniture on the homepage and soon have everything back to normal. It's a good plan except for one thing - there's no 'dead of night' on goodreads...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anni

    FLANN IS YER MAN! "He sat down at the piano and after some slow phrases, erupted into what Mick with inward wit, would dub a headlong chromatic dysentery which was ‘brilliant’ in the bad sense of being inchoate and, to his ear at least, incoherent. A shattering chord brought the disorder to a close. –Well, he said, rising, what did you think of that? Hackett looked wise. –I think I detected Liszt in one of his less guarded moments, he said". Do yourself a favour and get hold of this surreal comic FLANN IS YER MAN! "He sat down at the piano and after some slow phrases, erupted into what Mick with inward wit, would dub a headlong chromatic dysentery which was ‘brilliant’ in the bad sense of being inchoate and, to his ear at least, incoherent. A shattering chord brought the disorder to a close. –Well, he said, rising, what did you think of that? Hackett looked wise. –I think I detected Liszt in one of his less guarded moments, he said". Do yourself a favour and get hold of this surreal comic masterpiece in which O’Brien manages to combine a satire on Irish culture with an absurd fantasy concerning nuclear physics and religious transfiguration. But the genius of O’Brien’s storytelling is that the plots don't really matter - it's the effervescent use of language, the witty punning and inventive turn of phrase, with all the delirious flourishes of the native Irish vernacular that make his writing such a joy and laugh out loud funny. P.S. I feel I should add a warning that there is a non-PC word used in one episode which is deemed to be highly offensive today, but was not considered so at the time the book was published.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    1. Have you read Ulysses? If yes, proceed to (2). If no, do so then proceed to (2) 2. Have you read At Swim Two Birds? If yes, proceed to (3). If no, do so then proceed to (3) 3. Have you read The Third Policeman? If yes, proceed to (4). If no, do so then proceed to (4) 4. Have you read the Dalkey Archive? If yes, proceed to (5). If no, do so then proceed to (5). 5. Have a celebratory tipple

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    This was Flann O'Brien's last novel, and reads like a companion piece to his second, The Third Policeman, which was rejected by his publishers and only published after his death. Once again it is a surreal comedy with religious and philosophical elements, and there is some duplication of ideas, notably policemen who believe that people turn into bicycles and vice versa. I could attempt to say more about the plot, whose characters include James Joyce and St Augustine, but that seems pointless sin This was Flann O'Brien's last novel, and reads like a companion piece to his second, The Third Policeman, which was rejected by his publishers and only published after his death. Once again it is a surreal comedy with religious and philosophical elements, and there is some duplication of ideas, notably policemen who believe that people turn into bicycles and vice versa. I could attempt to say more about the plot, whose characters include James Joyce and St Augustine, but that seems pointless since the book itself says everything so much better.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Ted

    62nd book of 2021. 3.5. Not as good as the glorious The Third Policeman (one of my favourite books), but still good. James Joyce features as a character so it wasn't going to be bad, was it? This was O'Brien's final published novel and acts like a sequel (now) but a prequel (then); this is what I mean: The Third Policeman was written first but not published till after his death so if you were reading Flann back in the 60s and then years later read The Third Policeman, it would appear to you as so 62nd book of 2021. 3.5. Not as good as the glorious The Third Policeman (one of my favourite books), but still good. James Joyce features as a character so it wasn't going to be bad, was it? This was O'Brien's final published novel and acts like a sequel (now) but a prequel (then); this is what I mean: The Third Policeman was written first but not published till after his death so if you were reading Flann back in the 60s and then years later read The Third Policeman, it would appear to you as something like a sequel. To me, though (now), this is the sequel to the aforementioned (and better) novel, The Third Policeman. Some stuff appears again, particularly the idea of riding a bicycle too much and thus becoming part bicycle yourself (identifiable by much leaning, having one foot up on the curb, etc.) and the bicycle becoming part human too (identifiable by bicycles being seen by open fires, near food that later disappears, etc.). James Joyce himself is a character, yes, imagined un-dead, e.g. not-dead, and well. He appears in the latter part of the novel, but his feature is quite something to read. O'Brien fell out of favour with Joyce in his later life, apparently, and began to bitterly refer to him and his work. Perhaps living in his shadow did that. Either way, Joyce is a funny chap in the novel. It mostly centres around De Selby though, a man who is essentially trying to kill everyone on the planet. Mick must stop this (for obvious reasons). He's also got other problems, like with his wife, Mary. ************************************** I read At Swim-Two-Birds a while ago and thought it was good but not great and now realise I must read it again. It is held high. I told S. (my old loyal and frequently-appearing-character-in-my-reviews professor from university) that I didn't like it much, not compared to Policeman, because I had come onto O'Brien thanks to S.—he loves The Third Policeman and recommended it in hope I would too, as so far, he told me, not many people have loved it after he recommended it to them (a bit like trying to find a Henry James fan in today's world not in a coffin). He was very pleased that I loved it, and when I told him I didn't like At Swim-Two-Birds he agreed with me again, and said that, yes, O'Brien was perhaps trying too hard to be like Joyce there. I'm not sure what he means by that, but maybe he's right. Either way, The Dalkey Archive lacks a certain flare that The Third Policeman had. There's still some O'Brien novels to come but I'm starting to wonder if I'll just love one, really love one, and that is all. We'll see. O'Brien is still my second-favourite Irish writer behind Joyce because he's so mad and beautiful (if not a bit bitter at times). There was a young monk of La Trappe Who contracted a dose of the clap, He said Dominus Vobiscum, Oh why can't my piss come— There's something gone wrong with my . . . tap.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    Once again adjacent reading adds an interesting aspect to a book. Having just finished both War and Peace and The Dalkey Archive I find that these two very disparate writers come to the same conclusion: man is a fool if he thinks he can carry out a grand plan. I also read At Swim Two-Birds very recently, which with Dalkey bookends O’Brien’s novel writing career. Birds is completely anarchic, a wild parody of Irish folklore and blarney. Dalkey has equally surreal episodes embedded in a more tradit Once again adjacent reading adds an interesting aspect to a book. Having just finished both War and Peace and The Dalkey Archive I find that these two very disparate writers come to the same conclusion: man is a fool if he thinks he can carry out a grand plan. I also read At Swim Two-Birds very recently, which with Dalkey bookends O’Brien’s novel writing career. Birds is completely anarchic, a wild parody of Irish folklore and blarney. Dalkey has equally surreal episodes embedded in a more traditional narrative, and asks us to semi-believe that Joyce lived on another twenty years to become something quite unlike we would have expected, and that science might allow us to converse with the saints. It is the book of a mature man, who still thrills in his ability to compose grand fugues with his language, but who uses that skill to tackle bigger questions: art, morality, religion. I enjoyed Dalkey much more, which is probably down in part to my being somewhat more familiar with the material here than with Irish folklore. But it is more due, I think, to the edge that he brings to Mick and Hackett’s exposure to Saint Augustine’s dodgy answers to de Selby’s questions about some Biblical figures with baggage. Also to the bizarre encounter with a docile and prim Joyce, since I am simultaneously reading about the pugnacious Joyce’s erotic/pornographic letters to Nora in The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses. But I have to say for pure O’Brien hysteria, Sergeant Fottrell’s riff on mollycule exchange between bicycle rider and his bicycle can’t be topped. O’Brien’s loving but clear-eyed evocation of his countrymen is a treat. At the same time you get a multi-faceted picture of the Church, from Augustine, and the fathers fabricating the Holy Spirit, to the lure of the ‘closed orders’ for someone looking for a peaceful escape hatch from present problems; say, the Jesuits and their quite comfortable approach to serving the Lord. Debate about Judas’s motives and destination after death. Finally, there is the Big Question, of whether the whole lot of us deserve to be obliterated. I have been debating between 4 and 5; writing the review pushes it to 5.

  8. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    Flawless little novel centred around Mick who single-handedly saves the world from asphyxiation, rescues his ailing marriage with the restless Mary, and helps steer a still-living James Joyce into the Jesuit Order. All in a day's work. Flawless little novel centred around Mick who single-handedly saves the world from asphyxiation, rescues his ailing marriage with the restless Mary, and helps steer a still-living James Joyce into the Jesuit Order. All in a day's work.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Rightfully eponymous, ultra-uproarious, The Dalkey Archive sets the standard for what you can expect from Dalkey Archive: wit as the first and last weapon of literary self-defense, audacious formal inventiveness, pugnacious sagacity, merciless disillusionment, chthonic eloquence, and contemptuous disregard for standard literary expectations.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Best book I've read in weeks! I gather O'Brien felt a bit stereotyped as a one-book author based on At Swim-Two-Birds but I preferred this one. I guess it could be called a comic novel, but subtly so, and it incorporates some supernatural elements that are not intended to be ludicrous or unbelievable. Every character has some sort of grandiose obsession that remains somewhat ambiguous as to whether it is actually true. There is, 1) the "mad scientist" who has invented what he says is a mechanism Best book I've read in weeks! I gather O'Brien felt a bit stereotyped as a one-book author based on At Swim-Two-Birds but I preferred this one. I guess it could be called a comic novel, but subtly so, and it incorporates some supernatural elements that are not intended to be ludicrous or unbelievable. Every character has some sort of grandiose obsession that remains somewhat ambiguous as to whether it is actually true. There is, 1) the "mad scientist" who has invented what he says is a mechanism to destroy all the oxygen in the atmosphere - aside from the potential to bring about the apocalypse, the side-effect is that time somehow stops or reverses and early Church fathers, saints, apostles and Old Testament prophets appear out of the ether to dispute theology with the contemporary characters - perhaps a nod to The Inferno is intended, 2) another man suddenly declares that James Joyce faked his own death 7 or so years prior and is actually living incognito in a seaside resort town just north of Dublin - the central character goes off to locate him and sure enough finds a man tending bar in a pub who admits to being James Joyce but is very conventionally pious and disowns most of the work published under his name, 3) the policeman who reveals his theory of molecular exchange in which humans who spend too much time on bicycles become a sort of human-cycle hybrid (the bicycle undergoes a reciprocal transformation); the fact that this exchange involves no visible change could be a subtle dig at the doctrine of transubstantiation; in any event the policeman spends a lot of time combating this by stealing people's cycles, giving them flat tires and so on.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Leni Iversen

    In the Dalkey Archive we meet mad genius De Selby, whose work the main character of The Third Policeman is so obsessed with. We also meet a younger version of some of the other characters from that book. But since O'Brien huffily decided not to have The Third Policeman published after he was refused by one publisher, The Dalkey Archive was published first and even contains some of the dialogue from The Third Policeman. This book features a mad scientist who can do things to time that allows him t In the Dalkey Archive we meet mad genius De Selby, whose work the main character of The Third Policeman is so obsessed with. We also meet a younger version of some of the other characters from that book. But since O'Brien huffily decided not to have The Third Policeman published after he was refused by one publisher, The Dalkey Archive was published first and even contains some of the dialogue from The Third Policeman. This book features a mad scientist who can do things to time that allows him to speak with long dead theologians, and who plans to destroy all life on earth. It also contains an unrelated side plot where a befuddled James Joyce is alive and living secretly as a bartender in a nearby village. O'Brien was heavily influenced by Joyce, but hated being compared to him and seems to have written him in mainly for spite. I think The Third Policeman is the better book of the two, but meeting De Selby and hearing him rant about Descartes and debate with Augustin was fascinating and highly entertaining.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lukasz Pruski

    "One might describe a plenum as a phenomenon or existence full of itself but inert. Obviously space does not satisfy such a condition. But time is a plenum, immobile, immutable, ineluctable, irrevocable, a condition of absolute stasis. Time does not pass. Change and movement may occur within time." Flann O'Brien (pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan) is my literary discovery of 2017. This great yet not widely known Irish writer is the author of The Third Policeman , to me the funniest novel ever written "One might describe a plenum as a phenomenon or existence full of itself but inert. Obviously space does not satisfy such a condition. But time is a plenum, immobile, immutable, ineluctable, irrevocable, a condition of absolute stasis. Time does not pass. Change and movement may occur within time." Flann O'Brien (pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan) is my literary discovery of 2017. This great yet not widely known Irish writer is the author of The Third Policeman , to me the funniest novel ever written in the English language. His critically acclaimed At Swim-Two-Birds is a masterpiece precursor of post-modern literature. So I am more than a little disappointed with his The Dalkey Archive (1964), an interesting and readable novel, yet in no way even close to the greatness of the two other works. Dalkey shares two motifs with The Third Policeman: the character of De Selby, the "mad scientist", and the idea that humans and bicycles can morph - perhaps transmute would be a better term - into each other. This fabulously deranged idea, first introduced in Policeman is dwelled upon here and explained via Sergeant Fottrell's Mollycule Theory. Mollycules are transported from a bicycle to a human and presumably vice versa through repeated contact of human body with the bicycle saddle. Alas, because of repetition, what is out-of-this-world hilarious and unprecedented in its sheer audacity in Policeman becomes just slightly amusing here. Also, De Selby is side-splittingly hilarious when he is talked about; when he gets a speaking part in the story the hilarity is much lessened. (In an essay on O'Brien I read that he was unable to publish Policeman during his lifetime, which may explain the repetition of motifs that the author wanted to save from oblivion.) The plot of Dalkey is demented but not as wonderfully wacko as that of Policeman. Neither is the novel as masterfully constructed as Swim. Mick, an Irish lad in the little town of Dalkey, and his friend Hackett encounter a stranger who happens to be De Selby himself. Over whisky they discuss the erroneous ways of Descartes' philosophy, the nature of time (see the epigraph), and De Selby's plans to destroy all life on Earth by totally eliminating oxygen from the Earth's atmosphere. De Selby leads them to an undersea cave where - equipped with diving gear - they have a lively religious and philosophical discussion with none other than Saint Augustine. De Selby has the power of control over time: bringing back dead people to life is not a big deal for him. Even better, he can easily change one-week-old-whisky to several years of age - a feat quite useful in Ireland, one presumes. By the way, most scenes are accompanied by consumption of certain types of liquids in the form of stout, whisky, gin, or - gasp! - wine. To me, the Saint Augustine scene is the best in the book, which sort of goes down from there. True, we have plenty of things happen, such as conversations with St. Francis of Assisi, attempts to rehabilitate Judas Iscariot, and - most impressively - several meetings with James Joyce, who had only pretended to have died. Joyce maintains that ... No, let's not spoil the plot as this might be the funniest thing in the novel for readers who do not know the author's other works. To sum up, neither the insanity nor the originality of the plot reach the top registers. The prose is still wonderful and reading the book made my fascination with English - the language that I would like to master one day - even stronger. Three and a quarter stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Arnold

    Every O'Brien novel I've read has been really funny, and The Dalkey Archive is no different. The book centers around Mick and his struggles: him and his friend Hackett's interactions with the mad scientist De Selby; his efforts to help James Joyce join the Jesuits; and his arms-length relationship with his girlfriend Mary. While it somewhat recycles a few plot elements of The Third Policeman (the De Selby character, policemen on bicycles), as well as the literary playfulness of At Swim-Two-Birds Every O'Brien novel I've read has been really funny, and The Dalkey Archive is no different. The book centers around Mick and his struggles: him and his friend Hackett's interactions with the mad scientist De Selby; his efforts to help James Joyce join the Jesuits; and his arms-length relationship with his girlfriend Mary. While it somewhat recycles a few plot elements of The Third Policeman (the De Selby character, policemen on bicycles), as well as the literary playfulness of At Swim-Two-Birds (James Joyce is a character suspected of not having written his own novels and desirous of becoming a priest), it has its own identity in the protagonist's struggles with religion and relationships. But irreverence is paramount, and aided by some of the most continuous drinking I've ever seen in a novel, O'Brien makes fun of Ireland, the Church, authorship, and just about everything else. The De Selby plotline is the one I enjoyed the most. I could probably read about the "Mollycule Theory" forever: "Every­thing is composed of small mollycules of itself and they are flying around in concentric circles and arcs and segments and innumerable various other routes too numerous to mention collectively, never standing still or resting but spinning away and darting hither and thither and back again, all the time on the go. Do you follow me intelligently? Mollycules? ... The gross and net result of it is that people who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky road­steads of the parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycles as a result of the interchanging of the mollycules of each of them, and you would be surprised at the number of people in country parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles.... And you would be unutterably flibbergasted if you knew the number of stout bicycles that partake serenely of humanity." Never mind that De Selby is attempting to destroy the world with DMP, a lethal substance which also has the property of allowing conversation with important Christian religious figures. Mick and Hackett try some out, scuba diving along with De Selby to have an enlightening conversation with no less a personage than Saint Augustine. Much like in The Third Policeman, our hero plots a mission to retrieve the fatal supply, though not before using the theologically troubling revelations to engage in further barroom debate over Judas, the merits of various theologians, and other doctrinal disputes: is the bicycle/man duality similar to that between God and Jesus? Probably the most important portions of the novel from a "literary" perspective are those of Joyce. Reams of analyses have been written about the most influential author in Irish history, but O'Brien's personal attitude toward Joyce is nowhere near as deferential as Brahms' artistic intimidation by his own famous predecessor, that "To follow in Beethoven's footsteps transcends one's strength". Mick's response to a question about why he wants to meet Joyce brings him firmly down to earth: "I believe the picture of himself he has conveyed in his writings is fallacious. I believe he must be a far better man or a far worse. I think I have read all his works, though I admit I did not properly persevere with his play-writing. I consider his poetry meretricious and mannered. But I have an admiration for all his other work, for his dexterity and resource in handling language, for his precision, for his subtlety in conveying the image of Dublin and her people, for his accuracy in setting down speech authentically, and for his enormous humour." In real life O'Brien was a famously under-achieving figure. That he makes Joyce a central figure, especially one who wants to join the Jesuits but is assigned the task of "in charge of the maintenance and repair of the Fathers' underclothes in all the Dublin residential establishments" is his own way of poking fun at the legends of literature, even as he pokes gentle fun at the trappings of religion. The Joyce character's ignorance of his fame, or even of authorship of his own works, is an interesting commentary on the unreality of fame to the famous, as well as a jab at Irish over-humility. Though Mick's eventual reconciliation and marriage to his pregnant girlfriend Mary is as serious an ending for an O'Brien protagonist as you'll find, I think his playful attitude towards life is best summed up by a limerick Hackett recites on learning that Mick has delusions of becoming a monk: "There was a young monk of La Trappe Who contracted a dose of the clap, He said Dominus Vobiscum, Oh why can't my piss come There's something gone wrong with my... tap."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Noah

    I don’t know

  15. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    This is probably the weakest of Flann's five novels, but that isn't necessarily bad, since his other work is so awesome. This is the tale of the fickle in love and alcohol Mick who meets a local scientist (De Selby from the "Third Policeman") who intends to destroy the world, shades of Ras al-Ghul, with a deoxygenating substance he calls the DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police). De Selby can also use DMP to stop time and visit with apparations from heaven, like John the Baptist and St. Augustine, so This is probably the weakest of Flann's five novels, but that isn't necessarily bad, since his other work is so awesome. This is the tale of the fickle in love and alcohol Mick who meets a local scientist (De Selby from the "Third Policeman") who intends to destroy the world, shades of Ras al-Ghul, with a deoxygenating substance he calls the DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police). De Selby can also use DMP to stop time and visit with apparations from heaven, like John the Baptist and St. Augustine, so you can imagine how this goes down (e.g. Augustine complains about his hemorrhoids, and so on). Mick decides to stop him, discovers James Joyce is still alive and tending bar, and has a "spiritual crisis" for about five minutes. For the Flann completist only, probably.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    some good jokes but not nearly as good as at swim two birds.

  17. 5 out of 5

    David

    Again, I turn to the writer himself: "The book is not meant to be a novel or anything of the kind but a study in derision, various writers with their styles, and sundry modes, attitudes and cults being the rats in the cage." Not a bad description at all at all. A rollicking send-up of many things, both the peculiarly Irish and the universally peculiar. Death is no barrier to the participation of some famous characters. The world is at risk. Or not. Leaves no unanswered questions except for the o Again, I turn to the writer himself: "The book is not meant to be a novel or anything of the kind but a study in derision, various writers with their styles, and sundry modes, attitudes and cults being the rats in the cage." Not a bad description at all at all. A rollicking send-up of many things, both the peculiarly Irish and the universally peculiar. Death is no barrier to the participation of some famous characters. The world is at risk. Or not. Leaves no unanswered questions except for the ones there aren't any answers to. I liked it better than At Swim-Two-Birds but I think I might have been more patient with this one.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Renee Noble

    Enduring, enticing, effervescent.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael Martin

    This book has rewarded several re-visits. Time for another

  20. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    Brian O’Nolan was an Irish civil servant who wrote fiction and journalism under pseudonyms. Flann O’Brien was the name O’Nolan used on his fiction and it is the name of the author of The Dalkey Archive, a metafictional novel that veers from the philosophical to the nonsensical, from the tender to the coarse and from the religious to the irreverent, often in the same sentence. The Dalkey Archive is much more than a novel and at the same time much less than a story. There are linear threads of sort Brian O’Nolan was an Irish civil servant who wrote fiction and journalism under pseudonyms. Flann O’Brien was the name O’Nolan used on his fiction and it is the name of the author of The Dalkey Archive, a metafictional novel that veers from the philosophical to the nonsensical, from the tender to the coarse and from the religious to the irreverent, often in the same sentence. The Dalkey Archive is much more than a novel and at the same time much less than a story. There are linear threads of sorts that run through the book, but they are often knotted or broken. But the real ambition of the book seems to be something different from story-telling, something more akin to a flippant, sometimes facetious examination of the relationship between received assumption, demonstrable fact and identity-endowing allegiance. On the face of it, The Dalkey Archive is something of a farce. There is this fellow called Mick, who is generally surprised by the use of Michael. He has an acquaintance called De Selby who claims both theories and capabilities, one of which is the ability to manufacture a substance capable of sucking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. He has plans. But his greatest achievement is to attend a meeting with Saint Augustine of Hippo set up by De Selby, where the attendees can grill the Saint about, amongst other things, his dabbling with Manicheanism and his sexual preferences. But this is no story cast in black and white, though it may make claim to the mundane. Another of Mick’s adventures is to locate James Joyce, reportedly resident nearby. He wants to ask the great man a few questions about his work. He traces Joyce to a seaside resort called Skerries, which means he is on the rocks. James Joyce is working as a bar assistant, which is convenient because Mick likes to spend quite a lot of his time in bars. But Joyce remains enigmatic. And why wouldn’t he be? He denies all knowledge of Finnegan’s Wake and maintains that someone else wrote Ulysses. It’s all right, especially when the concept of truth is under scrutiny. After all, the eternal Holy Ghost only became extant - in its non-extant way – at the Council of Contantinople in 381AD, so there! Now if anyone might think that things are getting a tad silly, then spend just one day - as Leon Blum did in another place - just making notes on the things you saw, said or thought, however random. At the end of the day, have a look at what is there and realise that you have been everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Welcome to being human. Oh, and there are some pretty strange policemen in the book as well, often riding bicycles, of all things. They have made appearances in another book. It is hard not to read The Dalkey Archive in a Dublin accent. Even then, it remains incomprehensible, the blast of reality coming, perhaps, with Mary’s final words. Which Mary? you might ask. Now there’s a story… As novels go, The Dalkey Archive might itself be intoxicated. Certainly most of its characters are intoxicated for a good proportion of their time. Read it to realise, amongst other things, how much other writing, especially that we often describe as conventional or mainstream, is no more than illusion sugared with unreal reality. Also realise how much of life, itself, and our assumed beliefs within it are delusional. Oh, and have a good number of laughs along the way.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Adam Stevenson

    I was in need of something funny to read (my last book having been ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’) so I went with Flann O’Brien’s ‘The Dalkey Archive’. The reviews on the back promised ‘a wicked yet affectionate satire on Irishry’ and I was intrigued by the plot synopsis that describes a civil servant and James Joyce saving the world from a mad scientist. The book delivered what it promised, I feel it probably delivered too well. Despite Ireland being just over an hour’s plane ride away, having liv I was in need of something funny to read (my last book having been ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’) so I went with Flann O’Brien’s ‘The Dalkey Archive’. The reviews on the back promised ‘a wicked yet affectionate satire on Irishry’ and I was intrigued by the plot synopsis that describes a civil servant and James Joyce saving the world from a mad scientist. The book delivered what it promised, I feel it probably delivered too well. Despite Ireland being just over an hour’s plane ride away, having lived with Irish flatmates and enjoyed my fair share of Irish humour - I was not steeped enough in ‘Irishry’ for the jokes to land solidly. I was particularly not knowledgeable enough about Catholicism and living in a Catholic country. While I could enjoy the ludicrous image of three men in scuba gear having a chat with St Augustine, I didn’t know enough about the man or his ideas to really grasp the send-up. Similarly all the talk about early christian heresies like pelagianism and donatism, I had a vague idea of what they are but not enough for spoofing. It felt rather like watching a sports comedy. I said in my earlier review of ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ that the fact it was not very well written (or at least, not very showily written) was a benefit as it gave a space for the reader. This book is densely written, the sentences are very careful and crafted and there wasn’t much space for me in there at all. As I wasn’t particularly ‘in’ on the jokes, the writing proceeded to push me further out. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I pretty much did. The first two pages of utterly over-the-top description of Dalkey were very funny, even if those pages sent me to the dictionary more times than Samuel Johnson does. As the book went on, I stopped looking in the dictionary, partly because I was more invested in the book and didn’t want to interrupt it but also because many of the words I didn’t know were original to this book. I think this sort of thing would have been far more up my street when I was a teenager. My favourite book was Bo Fowler’s ‘Scepticism Inc’, which is a similarly surreal run around religion and all the digs at Jesuits and bizarre ‘moleycule’ theorising would have amused me a lot. Although ‘Scepticism Inc’ apes Kurt Vonnegut’s style whilst ‘The Dalkey Archive’ is going for a more James Joyce vibe. Aside from the fact that the man himself shows up, O’Brien uses dashes instead of speech marks when someone talks. (Is that just a ‘Ulysses’ thing or a modernist thing?) I can see why many people seem to love this book and if I squint I can to, but squinting for a few hundred pages gives me a headache, so I’ll have to make do with finding it ‘enjoyable enough’. I shall certainly have a go at ‘At-Swim-Two-Birds’ at some point but before I do, I want to have another proper crack at ‘Ulysses’. Might go for something lighter first though.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    The fact that I read Flann O’Brien’s The Dalkey Archive over a month ago and am only now getting around to writing about it here would be a convenient excuse for me to use to cover up the fact that I don’t have too much to write about it. The Dalkey Archive is a fun little story about an Irishman named Mick and a few quirky individuals with whom he gets wrapped up, including his cynical friend Hackett, a mad scientist named De Selby, and the actually-not-dead-but-alive-and-in-hiding author James The fact that I read Flann O’Brien’s The Dalkey Archive over a month ago and am only now getting around to writing about it here would be a convenient excuse for me to use to cover up the fact that I don’t have too much to write about it. The Dalkey Archive is a fun little story about an Irishman named Mick and a few quirky individuals with whom he gets wrapped up, including his cynical friend Hackett, a mad scientist named De Selby, and the actually-not-dead-but-alive-and-in-hiding author James Joyce. It’s quirky. De Selby has a plot to destroy all life by removing oxygen from the air, and has discovered some drug-like method of chatting with famous historial religious figures, such as St. Augustine. James Joyce is working as a bartender in a small town outside Dublin and is ashamed of Ulysses, which he now insists is crude, immoral trash that must not be mentioned or acknowledged. Regarding all of these things Mick is interested, and alarmed, and confused, and tries to think of a plan to stop De Selby with Hackett in the pub, or wonders what must have happened to James Joyce while sitting alone in Stephen’s Green. He tries to set a few things in motion with the two fascinating and bizarre characters he has met, but ultimately doesn’t end up accomplishing much of anything. This is a really strange review I know, because it’s a really strange story. My uncle asked me what it was about as I was reading and I had no idea what to tell him. It’s just a quirky, comic story I guess. I praised O’Brien’s dialogue in my earlier review of At Swim-Two-Birds, and it bears repeating. The dialogue in The Dalkey Archive is just so fun to read, and reminds me of my time in Dublin. Ugh, I love Ireland and its literature so much.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Title: I appreciate a menu with pictures Subject(s): 1. As an announcer at my young son's hockey game my first spoken words in the open mic were to inform the parents in the arena that "I sure do swear a lot." 2. My son has no interest in Batman v Superman, expressly citing my ugly divorce from his mother a few years back as the root cause. Common rules: 1. When expressing a sole opinion please avoid words that pretend others agree with you, such as "That's what she said." Current status: 1. Impaled on Title: I appreciate a menu with pictures Subject(s): 1. As an announcer at my young son's hockey game my first spoken words in the open mic were to inform the parents in the arena that "I sure do swear a lot." 2. My son has no interest in Batman v Superman, expressly citing my ugly divorce from his mother a few years back as the root cause. Common rules: 1. When expressing a sole opinion please avoid words that pretend others agree with you, such as "That's what she said." Current status: 1. Impaled on the spiral of happiness. On a personal note: 1. Thanks to dating a label-maker enthusiast I now instantly know which kitchen cupboard contains my 64-ounce plastic 7-Eleven cups. 2. I can't wait to go to heaven because I am pretty sick of drinking my margaritas in Styrofoam cups. 3. I should have finished my laundry last night or called in sick this morning rather than show up to work with drawn-on magic marker clothes. I hate to brag, but: 1. Thanks to a cassette copy of Journey's Greatest Hits I have stopped asking myself "I wonder how I would stand up under torture?" 2. I am the only person I know that has an "I've showered with death" tattoo. 3. After but a few minutes at my local Turkish bath I have come to realize that patience and greed don't go together very well. I will leave you with these two thoughts: 1. My childhood hero still makes amazing corned beef. 2. If your last name ends in a vowel there is a very good chance that you are not a WASP.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    O'Brien's 64 work (though written earlier) is beautifully composed and leisurely paced. containing elements of sci fi, fantasy, farce and satire but being a million miles from the unsubtle writing those genres often suggest. O'Brien had incredible skill in spinning a yarn and building tension, then going off at tangents but without frustrating the reader. in fact we love his unconventional plotting. those days were a golden age for experimental or postmodern fiction and you can feel O'Brien's jo O'Brien's 64 work (though written earlier) is beautifully composed and leisurely paced. containing elements of sci fi, fantasy, farce and satire but being a million miles from the unsubtle writing those genres often suggest. O'Brien had incredible skill in spinning a yarn and building tension, then going off at tangents but without frustrating the reader. in fact we love his unconventional plotting. those days were a golden age for experimental or postmodern fiction and you can feel O'Brien's joy at the freedom this afforded him. there is no alienation of the audience here, just a chance to be led on a journey narratively as if we were children again. i feel the blurb gives away too much, even in its first sentence, so i'd recommend skipping it. of course I read this because its title gave a name to the wonderful publisher which makes such fun, original, unpigeonholable work available. praise be to the Dalkey Archive!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christine Granados

    I may never look at bicycles the same way again. This book is absurd in the best way possible. It was cumbersome for me to read because I had to stop every other word to look up all the references the main characters and St. Augustine were referencing when they spoke—Nicaea, Chrysostim, Manichoean, Plotinus... I learned that I'm dumb but the silliness of the book kept me interested and made me feel not so stupid. The entire book was silly, silly. I learned a wee bit of Irish too—spawns,rashers, I may never look at bicycles the same way again. This book is absurd in the best way possible. It was cumbersome for me to read because I had to stop every other word to look up all the references the main characters and St. Augustine were referencing when they spoke—Nicaea, Chrysostim, Manichoean, Plotinus... I learned that I'm dumb but the silliness of the book kept me interested and made me feel not so stupid. The entire book was silly, silly. I learned a wee bit of Irish too—spawns,rashers, grubsteaks, glawsheen, farls...

  26. 5 out of 5

    ger

    Flann O'Brien was certainly a man who could come up with some astounding ideas. A man who plans to destroy the world because it deserves it , James Joyce alive and working as a barman in Skerries and of course the policeman who steals bicycles to prevent the exchange of molecules. His use of language is renowned and he can be funny. That said I preferred "The Third Policeman" as a novel. I also feel s sense of underlying bitterness throughout his writings but that might just be because I know hi Flann O'Brien was certainly a man who could come up with some astounding ideas. A man who plans to destroy the world because it deserves it , James Joyce alive and working as a barman in Skerries and of course the policeman who steals bicycles to prevent the exchange of molecules. His use of language is renowned and he can be funny. That said I preferred "The Third Policeman" as a novel. I also feel s sense of underlying bitterness throughout his writings but that might just be because I know his life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cody

    (Lightning Review) This deserves a full review, which I intend on giving when able. Easily second only to Two-Birds and a whole helluva lotta fun. Flann was so much more than a comic author. He was one of the best. Ever. He's one of the troika of Irish Immortals, and, yep, you have to read everything he did. That, sadly, ain't a whole lot. Raise your glasses, bastards. Lightning review grade: whiskey, beer, and seltzer water (simultaneously) (Lightning Review) This deserves a full review, which I intend on giving when able. Easily second only to Two-Birds and a whole helluva lotta fun. Flann was so much more than a comic author. He was one of the best. Ever. He's one of the troika of Irish Immortals, and, yep, you have to read everything he did. That, sadly, ain't a whole lot. Raise your glasses, bastards. Lightning review grade: whiskey, beer, and seltzer water (simultaneously)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I don't like how he brought Joyce into it. I felt like O'Brien was insulting him. Some sections so similar to 'The Third Policeman' that I had to make sure I hadn't read it already. Also, it took a bit too much of a religious angle for my taste, both the main plot and the side story of Joyce was full of the stuff. Nice to read about places you frequent though. I don't like how he brought Joyce into it. I felt like O'Brien was insulting him. Some sections so similar to 'The Third Policeman' that I had to make sure I hadn't read it already. Also, it took a bit too much of a religious angle for my taste, both the main plot and the side story of Joyce was full of the stuff. Nice to read about places you frequent though.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Short absurd novel that's kinda like a selection of O'Brien's greatest hits, including: bicycles, an odd genius named De Selby, policeman, drinking, pancakes. I wouldn't have minded the whole of it holding together better, and no doubt some of the Joyce references and Christian allusions were lost on me, but a fairly enjoyable read nonetheless. Short absurd novel that's kinda like a selection of O'Brien's greatest hits, including: bicycles, an odd genius named De Selby, policeman, drinking, pancakes. I wouldn't have minded the whole of it holding together better, and no doubt some of the Joyce references and Christian allusions were lost on me, but a fairly enjoyable read nonetheless.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Connor

    Hilarious, essential reading for catholics of all ages

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