The Masters of Irish Literature

July 11, 2018

Those who may ever be inclined to think on the subject of Irish literature usually cite Yeats and Joyce, Beckett and Shaw, William Trevor and Seamus Heaney. I would ask them, though, to add three more names to the list of masters: Chris O’Dowd and Nick Murphy (who work as a team) and Spike Milligan.

A few years ago, the Everloving happened across a British TV show called Moone Boy. Set in very rural Ireland, it followed the life and adventures of a 12-year old lad, Martin Moone and his Imaginary Friend. The rest of the characters consist of bullying big sisters, an endearing set of parents with no hope, some very odd school friends, and an even odder assortment of locals.  There were only 18 episodes and they ended in 2015. Wonderful series. The Imaginary Friend was played by Chris O’Dowd. He also wrote it along with Nick Murphy.

At the same time, O’Dowd and Murphy wrote two novels based on the series: Moone Boy: The Blunder Years and Moone Boy: The Fish Detective.  It is these two books that I offer up as evidence of their mastership of Irish literature.

In the first, The Blunder Years, our 11-year old hero despairs of life in a house with gloriously-ineffective parenting, constant near-poverty, and three bullying older sisters. His friend Padraig suggests Martin get himself an Imaginary Friend.  Martin agrees and conjures up Loopy Lou, a persistently awful rapper. Martin tires of Lou pretty quickly and discovers a far more congenial Imaginary buddy in Sean, an unemployed clerk in a bad suit and a head full of (usually) bad advice for his young charge.  How they go about disposing of Imaginary Lou is the final plot.

In the second book, The Fish Detective, 12-year old Martin needs money for Christmas so he talks his way into helping at the local butcher’s shop. The owner in turn hires him to go undercover at the local fish factory (her competition) to discover how they prepare fish without any local workers being employed. Martin, always accompanied by Sean of course, wheedles his way into the factory and finds out the startling truth. They find sadness and true friendship, a troupe of homesick singing Brazilian fish-gutters, and more than enough silliness to entertain for 200 pages.

I assume, from their style, format, and the occasional fart joke, that these are written for a younger audience. But don’t let that fool you.  Any novel that can make a 70-year old man laugh out loud more than once on the #20 bus (where darker street cabaret is on offer a lot more than classy verbal jousting) is a lot more than just a kid’s book. There is marvelous entertainment for the brain here as well as for the belly.  These works are funnier than Pygmalion and pithier than Godot, adding greatly to the sum of human happiness and knowledge of (a very particular part of) the human condition.  A Nobel Prize should be the least of their rewards.

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At the very beginning of this piece i also mentioned that Spike Milligan needs to be considered among the great Irish masters. I have to admit that this opinion is based entirely on memory. Back in the 1960s, I read a book of his called Puckoon, set in Ireland during the Partition of 1924.  Even at this long distance, say fifty years since I read it, I still believe this book was the funniest novel I ever read. Any novel that can evoke a memory that strong just has to be a classic.  I rest my case.

 

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Image: Echoes of Childhood

July 11, 2018