Title: Brian O’Nolan
Date: 12 Sep 14 (Friday in the PM)
Time: 2 minutes
Replies: 26
Revisions: 1
Publicity: Workshop

This is my favorite story.

There was once a brilliant student who wanted to become a famous author but paradoxically wanted no one to know who he was. Taking a pseudonym, he wrote a novel about a novel, which in turn was about a novel in which the characters rebelled against their being in such a novel. Its complex ideology on literature itself assured that it would be at best only a minor success, and regardless, most copies were incinerated in the publisher’s warehouse in London during a German raid. Undaunted, the author wrote another novel, this time eschewing the direct address of a world of literature – rather, he hid literature within the novel’s seemingly realistic world. The work developed in the most strange and unforeseeably beautiful ways, like a mishapen gem under unreplicable conditions somewhere deep in the darkest mountain.

Upon finishing, he handed the manuscript over to his publisher, who had warned him to steer clear of the “fireworks” that had made his first book unsaleable. When the publisher read this second work, he declared it even more unfit for publication than the first. The author tried a few other avenues but didn’t have the dedication or confidence necessary to carry it through. And so he told his friends and cronies, when asked about the new book, that he had lost it. That the only copy had flown out the boot of his car into the countryside, or that he had left it on a train. It was gone, he told them through various fictions, and it was impossible to recreate.

The author went onto to success in the ensuing years as a newspaper columnist, again under a pseudonym. But his ambition as a novelist was crushed and he was considered by many to have wasted his talent.

Drinking took over his life and much of it was spent attaining the necessary stupor to live through it. It is said that this once brilliant student became a hard and difficult man who knew when the pubs opened but not when they closed – he was an early riser, to say the least. And so it went. He tried toward the end of his life to resurrect his career as a novelist, even pillaging ideas from his own rejected novel, but he produced only inferior works. Finally, after much misery, he died on April Fool’s Day, 1966.

But here’s the kicker.

The book never disappeared. As you may have suspected, the author stashed it in his home, apparently in the sideboard of his dining room. He breakfasted, lunched, and dined but a few feet from it for the last 25 years of his life. Upon his death, his wife had it published. It is among the greatest works I’ve ever read. Perhaps the greatest.

This author was considered by those who knew him to be a loser. I don’t think so. I think he won.


Bear » Authorship
Bear » 7:26 AM 14 Sep 14

The Thread (26)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. A remarkably typical writer.

  2. Not that.

  3. “I declare to God if I hear that name Joyce one more time I will surely froth at the gob.”

  4. To that I am beginning to relate — along with Kafka, Hemingway, Beckett, and others. It’s my wish to discuss authors living, and unknown but to a few. Call me crazy.

  5. Then you can relate to Brian O’Nolan, who said that about Joyce.

    I don’t discriminate based on ontological state or fame.

    Excellent call, Rabbit. Do you know him?

  6. To discuss only living writers is to disregard one of the basic functions of writing as a technology. We can read and relate to individuals who who lived decades, centuries, even millennia ago.

  7. Besides, I just happen to like this story. You don’t, Elk?

  8. No — it’s amazing. And it’s certainly my fate (minus the eventual publication and anyone thinking anything great).

    I’m just wishing I knew more about obscurity. It’s one of these insane phenomena of society, how much we talk about a few individual celebrities in relation to the global population. I get itchy and think we’re doing damage to ourselves, or at least are missing out on significant evolutionary advancement when we rinse and repeat with A Catcher in the Rye year after year after year after year.

    This questioning of school-based market penetration by A Catcher in the Rye was one of the original motivating factors behind my current fiction project, and remains a leading force. I want the next generation reading something else, not for change alone, but for high and practical purposes — what’s been written is, after so many readings and so much time, processed by culture and worked into the next iteration of thought. If we don’t read new works, we don’t grow. And when we read new works, we get from them what’s new but also what’s inherited, like the DNA of literature.

    This is also what drove us to read Panama together.

    Now, that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to revisit the canon. But, I posit we’ve uncritically allowed some texts and even whole authors to have just about taken over the garden, as if invasive.

  9. Well, to be fair, this fellow is a bit more obscure than Salinger.

    And isn’t it A Catcher in a Rye?

  10. It’s The Catcher in the Rye. And I’ve never been prouder of myself than now, not even knowing the title of that work. It makes me feel like I might have some mighty purpose in society — as an offsetting factor, an element of balance.

  11. Your last thoughts mark the difference between my post and the re-teaching of texts year after year. I am anything but uncritical.

    That said, I think we can find value in almost any text. It’s not what we read so much as how we read.

  12. Right. I was messing around.

  13. The point is, we can and should discuss Kafka, Hemingway, Joyce, etc., as well as obscure living writers. But if your eighth grade English teacher shows up in Rooster Land and has you write a theme, feel free to disavow.

  14. Quote the Wiki on Flann himself, as Rabbit discovered too —

    He was nonetheless sceptical of the cult of Joyce which overshadows much of Irish writing.

    Perhaps I’m an animal after Flann’s own heart.

  15. Exactly.

  16. Full disclosure: I got the quote after using The Google.

  17. We are all catchers in the rye. Holden was being a self-centered prick.

    I like the story, had never heard of O’Nolan, would classify him as “obscure” but truly don’t care much about that beyond compassion for the man’s sufferings.

  18. Suffering, as they say, fortifies the mind, strengthens the soul, and packs the spinal column with molten iron.

  19. That’s what they told Wolverine, and that dude is just angry all the time.

  20. Again, exactly.

  21. I’ve read also that irritability is a side effect of adamantium.

  22. In his writings on Spain, he was influenced by the Spanish master Pío Baroja. When Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, he traveled to see Baroja, then on his death bed, specifically to tell him he thought Baroja deserved the prize more than he. Baroja agreed and something of the usual Hemingway tiff with another writer ensued despite his original good intentions.

  23. Anyone read B.S. Johnson? Or Ann Quin?

  24. No — but I’ll have to consider them now because I like that you’re pinging the archives.

  25. They write marvelous stuff. Quin’s Berg is excellent, and Johnson’s The Unfortunates and House Mother Normal are both experiments that couldn’t simply be patted on the head with the term “experimental.” Plus, I think both writers died (really, they killed themselves) without realizing they had written important works.

  26. Sounds like stuff the author of this piece (@bear) would know or enjoy.

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