The Dalkey Archive

was Flann O'Brien's (aka Myles na gCopaleen, real name Brian Nolan) last novel, first published in 1964. Like most of the rest of his work, it's brilliantly surreal and funny, and it's also (IMHO) the most accessible of his books; although it includes elements from his other works* (De Selby, and the "Theory of Mollycules"), it can easily be read on its own.

The Dalkey Archive also inspired the Centre for Book Culture to start up a publishing house, Dalkey Archive Press, to publish great works of fiction from the past hundred years.

Characters in this novel include James Joyce, Saint Augustine, a Jesuit priest and the infamous De Selby, a fictional natural philosopher often quoted in O'Brien's other works, but never featured. The story is based in the south Dublin suburb of Dalkey, which is a beautiful sea-side area, somewhat reminicent of coastal Italian towns such as Sorrento, and follows the religious and metaphysical crises of one Mick Shaughnessy, his best friend Hackett, and the object of both of their affections, Mary.

The book revolves mainly around a substance discovered by De Selby, known as omnium, which destroys or somehow gets rid of all the oxygen in the air around it. Somehow, this also suspends time (the rather covoluted reasoning behind this is explained in the book), which allows De Selby (when he uses his omnium in an airtight underwater cave near Dalkey beach) to converse with various historical personages, such as Mary Magdalene and Saint Augustine. The omnium also allows De Selby to mature his home-distilled whiskey very quickly...

Having visited De Selby's residence (a house named "Lawn Mór", or Big Lawn, although the name plate, made by local looderamawn Teague McGettigan, mistakenly reads "Lawn Mower"), and supped his miraculous whiskey, Mick and Hackett are invited to join him under the sea for a conversation with Saint Augustine. This meeting prompts Mick to do a bout of soul searching, leading to a religious crisis for him, which leads to him meeting a Jesuit priest, and setting up a discussion between the priest and James Joyce, who Mick finds working in a bar, and unaware that any of his work has been published...

* The Dalkey Archive in fact contains many elements from The Third Policeman. Apparently, an editor or someone who read The Third Policeman told Flann that it was utter rubbish, and so he scrapped it, and recycled parts of it for The Dalkey Archive. The Third Policeman was later published posthumously, and (Dreamvirus and ryano both agree) it's excellent.


Praise for The Dalkey Archive and Flann O'Brien:

"A real writer, with the true comic spirit."

--James Joyce

"Flann O'Brien is unquestionably a major author. His work, like that of Joyce, is so layered as to be almost Dante-esque. . . . Joyce and Flann O'Brien assault your brain with words, style, magic, madness, and unlimited invention."

--Anthony Burgess

"Wit, humor, satire, the exact fall of a Dublin syllable, the ear for the local turn, the flight of fancy that can spin into a Dublin joke or a Limerick limerick--all these are his."

--New York Times


Sources:

http://www.centerforbookculture.org/dalkey/backlist/obrien.html#dalkey

http://www.disinfo.com/pages/dossier/id317/pg1.html

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