The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life
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The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life

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4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  1,131 ratings  ·  93 reviews
The Poor Mouth relates the story of one Bonaparte O'Coonassa, born in a cabin in a fictitious village called Corkadoragha in western Ireland equally renowned for its beauty and the abject poverty of its residents. Potatoes constitute the basis of his family's daily fare, and they share both bed and board with the sheep and pigs. A scathing satire on the Irish, this work br...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published March 1st 1996 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1941)
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Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourtIn the Woods by Tana FrenchThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeUlysses by James JoyceDubliners by James Joyce
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David Katzman
I have quite the man-crush on Flann O’Brien. Call it a bro-mance if you wish. I’m making my way through all his work, including his newspaper columns. There’s something so anti-twenty-first-century about his use of multiple pseudonyms and personas in our look-at-me-age of “FACEBOOK STATUS: Pooping right now.” Here we have Brian O’Nolan who wrote his novels as Flann O’Brien and his newspaper column as a character Myles na Gopaleen (think mid-century Stephen Colbert). He even allegedly wrote lette...more
Geoff
Yesyesyes! Flawless, hilarious, scathing, blistering satire* of Irish/English colonialism of the Gaels and the Gaelic tongue. The funniest book you will read this or any other day. Not a rib-tickler or a knee-slapper but a whole body- and soul-shaker. Books like this make you glad to be a human being, alive and well and of unsound mind. Can you tell I liked it? Read this book. It's not even very long. Laughter destroys empires and pierces little lethal holes in the armor of imposed ideologies, l...more
Rowena
This was a satire about the Irish life told by narrator Bonaparte O'Coonassa (what a name!). There are LOTS of references to potatoes, poverty, drunkenness, perpetual rainfall and the Gaelic language issue. It's a very grim book but manages to be quite funny because of the narrator's writing style. A very good introduction to Flann O'Brien, in my opinion.
Bondama
Although much of the American public may be unaware of the incredible talent that was Myles naGopaleen, Brian O'Nolan, Flann O'Brien (he wrote under many, many pseudonyms) I sincerely think that anyone who loves humour, surrealism, etc. is missing out if you don't at least sample this man's writing.

It's been said many times that O'Nolan (I believe that's his birth name)and his good friend, James Joyce, used to sit with each other for hours, without uttering a word. I don't know if this is true,...more
MJ Nicholls
Better than a bag o' potatoes for breakfast, so it is. Its like in literature will never be seen again!
Dan
Aug 27, 2009 Dan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
In this comic work, Flann O’Brien satirizes the "Gaeltacht autobiography", a kind of literature that was popular in Ireland in the first half of the century, and which emphasized misery and impoverishment. Typically, the tone of the writer of this type of literature implies a doubt that anyone could have experienced worse conditions than those he or she is describing (Angela's Ashes comes to mind as a recent instance of this sort of narrative). In this fictional memoir, O’Brien undermines and su...more
Oscar
’La boca pobre’ es un puro disparate. Desde el primer momento, Flann O’Brien te introduce en un juego caracterizado por la parodia, llegando al ridículo en muchos casos, de las costumbres y tradiciones más típicas del folclore irlandés. En esta historia, los irlandeses se alimentan solo de patatas, que además es el único alimento que les apetece; les gusta ser pobres, se regodean en sus miserias, porque el buen gaélico asume lo que la vida le trae; viven en el campo, dando más importancia a sus...more
Ramon
Establishes Flann "the man" O'Brien as one of my favorite authors, the most underappreciated of the Irish triumvirate (Plus JJ and Sammy Beck) and easily the funniest. Well... I mean, like, if Joyce made you giggle in the head, and Beckett with your heart, then Flann's all about the belly laugh. The muppet in lit's balcony is Flann, and here, he calls bullshit on the Gaelic Novel (take that, um... poor, subjugated underclass) with infectious, wicked, and just plain WRONG aplomb, by Gawd.

And he w...more
Bruce
This short novel, written by Brian O’Neal (whose most commonly used pen name was Flann O’Brien) under the pseudonym Miles na gCopaleen, was written in Irish Gaelic and later translated, thus being subject to all the vagaries associated with translations. It is a parody on the style of works of the Irish literary revival, his satire being aimed at those who want to romanticize the Gaelic people and culture. In the novel, the author exaggerates the poverty, the ignorance, the fatalism, the drunken...more
Alma Castro
Flann O’Brien is sinisterly funny in his short novel about the life of Bonaparte O'Coonassa. The story is based in a rural area in the West of Ireland and it is home to the most Gaelic residents known to Ireland. O’Brien satirizes the Gaelic roots of these residents by using the carnivalesque to exaggerate their living conditions.
All of the residents of Corkadoragha are extremely poor and they only have potatoes to eat. They share their homes with animals even though they cannot stand the smell...more
Paul Cockeram
This book is one long, fine joke told by a Gaelic writer at the expense of the Gaels; at the expense, also, of those seeking to exploit or romanticize them. Three things lie at the heart of the joke: Gaelic language, Gaelic poverty, and Gaelic misery. Think of Kate McKinnon's miserable Russian peasant character Olya Povlatsky on Saturday Night Live, whose refrain seems to be her unwavering desire to escape her miseries through the sweet release of death. In Flann O'Brien's The Poor Mouth, a cert...more
Li'l Vishnu
...a smothering fire arose in the end of the house—my mother burning the place. Back went the Old-Fellow in one leap, threw a couple of old sacks on the smoke and beat them with a big stick until the fire was quenched. He then beat my mother and gave her beneficial advice while doing so.
— p. 421 (in The Complete Novels)
For me, Flann/Myles goes in the same car with Charles Portis. Both are so imaginative—but also have a real knack for strange dialects. I just love the way their people talk. Hell,...more
J.M. Hushour
Flann O'Brien desecrates his own people in this hilarious and mockingly evil book which pokes black-natured fun at the Gaeltacht genre of Irish fiction. It is the tale of Bonaparte O'Coonassa who lives in the west Irish village of Corkadoragha where boots are unknown and feared, the terrible Sea-cat stalks the night, and Gaels drop dead in droves at every public function featured. The likes of this will never be there again! Highly, highly recommended.
Zac O hArgadain
An-Chliste! This book is very clever! Coming from an Irish-American family that came over during the Famine (Gorta Mor) speaking Irish Gaelic and that endured a lot of trauma on this side of the Atlantic, it is a great view into what those who remained in Ireland still speaking the language went through. What a great way to critique imposed stereotypes, Gaeltacht policy and the crushing weight of imperialism. It will have you laughing at every point, while also treating the struggle of the Irish...more
Norah
I read this a long time ago, and it has stuck in my memory. I found my review recently in the roof-space while looking for something else!

"If you want to understand the Irishness of the Irish, read The Poor Mouth by Flann O'Brien or Myles na Gopaleen, translated from the Gaelic. Brought up by his mother and grandfather (his father being 'in the jug'), poor, but appreciative of beauty and the traditions of the Gaels; basic earth humour, pigs in the kitchen stuff (Ambrose and the Bad Smell!); hard...more
Matthew
Originally written in Gaelic!

HILARIOUS MISERY!!!
Kevin Tole
I am giving this edition 1 star only to publicise the utterly poor quality of this Flamingo edition. Do yourselves a favour and track down the old Paladin / Picador edition if you can find it.

Flamingo must be one of the poorest of the poor publishing houses - either that or they are putting on the poor mouth - have gone out of their way to make this as cheap as possible possibly reflecting the hard times and the hardships of the Gaels which have fallen upon them, the ill luck and bounteous quant...more
Allan MacDonell
Irish people are great folks for making fun of humans not of their own ilk, but sensitive, sensitive souls when it comes to mockery being delivered by the other foot. The only reason the Hibernian Protection League allows The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life to remain in print without raising a pointless clamor against it is that the bruising kicks and cutting pricks the book delivers to the Irish psyche and physicality are delivered by Flann O’Brien, an admitted descendent of the Eme...more
Aaron Arnold
As the most insular and self-consciously Irish novel he ever wrote, this one won't ever gain the fame of his others, for understandable reasons, but it's very funny all the same. Originally published in Gaelic as An Béal Bocht, it's the story of Bonaparte O'Coonasa, a wretch of an Irishman who lives a life of uninterrupted poverty, misery, and filth in the remote village of Corkadoragha with his mother, an elderly companion named the Old-Grey-Fellow, and an assortment of pigs.

The humor in the bo...more
Mandy Jo
This week’s headline? An Béal Bocht

Why this book? only O'Brien available

Which book format? US print, HPB

Primary reading environment? one Saturday afternoon

Any preconceived notions? lesser known title

Identify most with? Sitric O'Sanassa's fate

Three little words? "Paradise of Ireland”

Goes well with? Po Tay Toes

Recommend this to? patient Gaelic translator

I picked up The Poor Mouth during my Half Price Books Irish fiction shopping spree late last year. I really, really, really want to read At Swim-...more
Holly
This book is often described as funny...well, Flann O'Brien is often described as a writer of the hilarious and I often find his humor eludes me (I am ready to take full blame on that count though as I strongly suspect his humor is outside of my knowledge to appreciate it). This book was different and after thinking about it for several days I concluded the reason I actually laughed outloud was because, well, I got it. I picked this up after reading a few books about the Irish famine of 1847ish...more
Mysterium
To fully understand this wonderfully twisted book, it helps to be from Ireland. It really, really helps to be from the Irish Republic. It really, really, really helps to be from Western Ireland Coastal region. It really, really, really, really helps to know the tension between the Irish and the english. (Yes, I purposely left it in the lower case). I fit all of these categories.

The Poor Mouth is a funny story about the Irish who inhabit one of the areas of Ireland that time seems to forget. It w...more
Braden
Stumbled on Flann O'Brien's The Poor Mouth just when I was starting to feeling sorry for my underemployed self. Satire at its best! Typical chapter beginning: “In one way or another, life was passing us by & we were suffering misery, sometimes having a potato & at other times having nothing in our mouths but sweet words of Gaelic. As far as the weather in itself was concerned, things were becoming worse.”

If I read this at another time in my life, I might give this four stars rather than...more
Evan
I realize that saying a translated work of literature had to have read better in the original language is a cliche, but in this case I really do think it's pivotal (with the caveat that I can't read Irish Gaelic). A lot of the humor in this, especially in the earlier chapters, seemed to depend on the reader understanding the style and structure of the Gaelic language, and the callbacks to specific earlier works in the style O'Brien was parodying, and despite a valiant effort on the translator's...more
Tim
The internet led me to Flann O'Brien's darkly humorous The Poor Mouth, a series of bleak tales about rural Irish life, told to mimic the way suffering and Irish culture was recounted in earlier Irish writing. Translated from the Gaelic with a lovely sing-song feel. Be ready for the bleakest tragedy and to laugh out loud repeatedly. "I do not think that the like will ever be there again." Illustrations by Ralph Steadman in my edition only made it bleaker.

"If the bare truth be told, I did not pro...more
Felix Purat
Wonderful satire that was originally written in the Irish language. You'll never find more love given to potatoes than in The Poor Mouth!
This book will make the reader want to learn Irish more than ever, given that the translation is a good one. I read the one translated by Patrick C. Power.

At any rate, a must read for anybody with the slightest interest in Irish literature, even if it doesn't go much further beyond Beckett, Heaney, Joyce or Yeats.
C. Hollis Crossman
Normally I'd give a Flann O'Brien book five stars. This one reads like a long inside joke that outsiders will get to a point, while missing all the subtelties.

There's a lot of repetition. O'Brien is clearly mocking the Irish attitude of resignation and "older is always better," but he seems to have run out of fuel about halfway through, reused the same humor a few times, then hastily wrapped everything up with a jail sentence.

I've heard enough Irish jokes and read enough Irish history and litera...more
Mike
Flann O' Brien (real name Brian O Nolan) was not a man to mince his words, as can be read in the collected Irish Times' Cruiskeen Lawn columns (written as Myles na Gopaleen). When he wrote The Poor Mouth, O' Brien undoubtedly set out to expose some idea(l)s by pastiching them to death.

By all accounts a great lover of Irish Gaelic, and a consummate writer of it, I think he felt tired with the way Gaelicism of his time had become a cliché. To great satiric results, The Poor Mouth exaggerates all c...more
Catherine
had I not read the introduction to this I would not have got it at all at all. Eeven having done so, I still feel I missed out on some of the joke. This repetitive tale of constant rain and rural poverty is full of exaggerated incident: misery memoir meets slapstick film in the Gaeltacht. Apparently O'Brien/O'Nolan/na gCopaleen's aim was to send up the nationalists' "woe is me" sentimentality and some of the stylistic conventions of the nascent gaelic writing fraternity. If he has done a good jo...more
Mick Child
A very humorous first person account of a young Gael's (Bonaparte O'Coonasa) life of squalor and misery in the village of Corkadoragha, Ireland. Originally written in Gaelic, translated to English in 1973, O'Brien masterfully uses satire to expose the lamentable existence and sorry conditions these people live in from their day of birth. It is a funny telling and very entertaining, though those of us not familiar with this particular life might find ourselves often shaking our heads in disbelief...more
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15248
Pseudonym of Brian Ó Nualláin, also known as Brian O'Nolan.


His English novels appeared under the name of Flann O’Brien, while his great Irish novel and his newspaper column (which appeared from 1940 to 1966) were signed Myles na gCopaleen or Myles na Gopaleen – the second being a phonetic rendering of the first. One of twelve brothers and sisters, he was born in 1911 in Strabane, County Tyrone, in...more
More about Flann O'Brien...
The Third Policeman At Swim-Two-Birds The Dalkey Archive The Best of Myles The Hard Life

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