Flann rides again!

Well, well. An amazing report on BBC Online on how a fleeting placement of Flann O’Brien’s surreal novel, The Third Policeman, on the cult TV series, Lost, has led to an upsurge in sales.

More than 15,000 copies were sold in the three weeks following the Lost episode airing in the US – equalling sales of the previous six years.

O’Brien (whose real name was Brian O’Nolan) played a big role in what might loosely be called my literary development, in that I was once thrown out of the National Library in Dublin because I had been reading back numbers of his Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times and was overcome with uncontrollable, hysterical laughter. A stern custodian escorted me to the door. I had been obliged to resort to the National Library because my mother regarded the Irish Times, the house organ of the Protestant Ascendancy, as a publication of the devil, and would not — as she put it — “have that heathen rag in the house”.

There are two good Wikipedia pages on O’Brien — one about his novels, the other on his newspaper column, but by far the best online reference is Carol Taaffe’s splendid essay.

For such an outrageously funny and original man, O’Brien seems to have had a pretty miserable life — as captured in the title of Anthony Cronin’s workmanlike biographyNo Laughing Matter: the life and times of Flann O’Brien. He died in 1966.