21 March 2010

The Hard Life: An Exegesis of Squalor, by Flann O'Brien

This book is somewhat fascinating in that it's not very good, but you find yourself wanting to keep reading it. I love Flann O'Brien - both At Swim Two Birds and The Third Policeman are absolutely phenomenal. So The Hard Life is written in the same wonderful voice, though with rather less humor, and the plot is just... ridiculous. It's ostensibly the autobiographical narrative of a young boy, but it's really more about his family. His brother starts a sketchy home publishing company, and then moves to London, and then inherits lots of money. His guardian is a crazy old man, with a daughter who turns out to maybe also be pretty sketchy. Basically the plot is completely random - something preposterous happens out of nowhere, and then the story kind of adjusts for it. So, for instance, the brother inherits a lot of money. Nobody is especially surprised or thrilled, but now he has lots of money, so he can buy them nice things. Ok, cool. Wait, what? It's totally bizarre. In some ways, this seems like O'Brien's usual humor, but it's pretty subtle, and not especially effective.

But the thing is, once you've started it, you're sort of half bemused, and it's a short book, and you just kind of succumb and keep reading it. No, it's not very good. It's not that bad either. Just sort of strange and not especially memorable.

No comments: