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The Hard Life

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  853 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Subtitled An Exegesis of Squalor, The Hard Life is a sober farce from a master of Irish comic fiction. Set in Dublin at the turn of the century, the novel does involve squalor illness, alcoholism, unemployment, bodily functions, crime, illicit sex but also investigates such diverse topics as Church history, tightrope walking, and the pressing need for public toilets for la ...more
Paperback, 179 pages
Published September 1st 1996 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1961)
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Average rating 3.63  · 
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I have to admit to indulging in some blasphemous thoughts while reading The Hard Life.
I don't think anyone could really blame me given the amount of irreverence I've come across this summer while making my way through the works of Flann O'Brien and François Rabelais, both of whom enjoy satirising the religious practices of their day in outrageous fashion. And being an ambitious pair, they aim their jibes not just at the lowest ranks of the clergy or even at the middle ranking ones but also at th
Mar 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, reviewed, own-a-copy

Growing up in Dublin at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries for sure was not the easiest thing . Joyce knew something about it too -see Portrait of the artist ... . Certain themes , to mention Irishness and Catholicism , are common here . Albeit , there where Joyce had thundered , O'Brien has just mocked .

Novel , starting in truly Dickensian way , very soon transforms into a grotesque satire launching an attack at all the Irish holiness. O’Brien’s Dubliners , in the haze of alcohol , waste
MJ Nicholls
Flann's return to novels since The Third Policeman was no-noed. I've often wondered how many publishers turned down the manuscript: I get the impression if he'd had a thicker skin and shopped it around the country or abroad, we'd have a fatter body of work.

Well. Never mind. The Hard Life: An Exegesis of Squalor is dedicated to Graham Greene, responsible for At Swim-Two-Birds being printed (and, to an extent, Third Policeman being passed over). This novella is a humorous piece involving a schemin
J.M. Hushour
Feb 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Orphans Manus and Finbarr are sent to live with their uncle Mr. Collopy. Collopy is obsessed with his secret scheme to have women's restrooms and toilets installed around early 20th century Dublin. His co-schemer is the German Jesuit Father Fahrt. Manus, in the meantime, begins ransacking scientific works and republishing them as his own under various pseudonyms and selling them to the gullible by mail-order (How to Tight-Rope Walk, Cultivating the Sours, Dentistry, etc.) Finbarr hates school, l ...more
Feb 05, 2014 rated it liked it
If this is one of O'Brien's lesser books (as other reviews seem to say), then I am eager to read the rest of his work. I liked the brother's mail order scams. The revelation of the nature of the half-uncle's work with women was clever (and the one-sided transcript of his interview with the Pope was hilarious). ...more
Apr 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
The problem with comparisons is that they innately position things as superior/inferior to other things. So the ‘reviewer’ is tasked with deciding which benchmarks they want to arbitrarily choose this time around to judge the merit of something (as if our opinions mean shit). Do you judge a given book against all books that you have ever read? Keep it internal and judge the author against their other works? By doing the latter, you run the risk of making a book seem insubstantial by proximity to ...more
Sep 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Hilarious, as usual, but not at quite the insane level of greatness as The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds. What, you haven't read either of those yet? Go do it! (Start with 3rd P.)

As funny as The Hard Life is, it's more... familiar than those early works, which is a little tragic. AS2B didn't sell well, and 3rd P wasn't published until after his death. One can't help but wish 3rd P had been recognized for the genius work it was. What other mad gems might he have produced if he'd received
Dec 23, 2016 added it
Shelves: ditched
I miserably failed at finishing this book. It is from one of my all time favorite authors but I believe my unfamiliarity with old street Irish English was too much a burden to take while reading the book. I'll attempt to redo it in near future. ...more
Mar 24, 2007 rated it liked it
The best irish author no one has ever heard of. It may seem at first another romantic vision of the wisdom of the Irish poor, turn on your irony detector when reading.
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Every time I finish a Flann O'Brien book I become immediately depressed that I can't read it again for the first time. Very, very funny in all of the best ways. ...more
Sep 06, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In his article in The New Yorker marking the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Flann O’Brien, Mark O’Connell talks a little about all his works and then slips in…
The less said about “The Hard Life,” though, the better.
…without explaining himself. An odd thing to say about a book that sold out in Dublin within two days, and reviewers, especially in England (Anthony Burgess amongst them), praised with gusto.

The story’s a simple enough one:
Two orphans, Finbarr and his brother Manus, are sent t
Colton Sorrels
Mar 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Probably the easiest Flann O'Brien novel I've read. There are some really interesting characters, but overall the story felt incomplete and the ending just dropped off. Still worth the read as he is probably the best when it comes to Irish Literature. ...more
Erik Schoning
Jan 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Flann O’Brien is a funny writer. He has a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and Irish dialect; in fact, most of this book takes the form of fireside conversations between a whiskey-loving old man and his Jesuit pal. What the contemporary American reader can’t make out in context turns out to be funny anyway, from sound alone. File under new insults: “poguemahone”, “thooleramawn”.

The Hard Life is a deceptive little novel. It begins, in the tradition of David Copperfield or Tristram Shandy, with t
Apr 13, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-general
Very dryly humorous; possibly so dry that I missed much of the pointed commentary.

The story is told by the younger of two orphaned brothers, Finbarr and Manus, who are brought to Mr. Collophy in the south side of Dublin, about 1890. We follow their life over the course of about twelve years. Mr. Collophy is a loquacious know-it-all who, we gradually learn, has a solution to the plight of the women of Dublin (we don't really know what this is, as Finbarr is too young to understand). The only pers
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-literary
Here are some new insults I learned (in order of appearance) while reading this book:
► bloody young gurrier
► thooleramawn
► looderamawn
► bold rossie
► thullabawn
► bosthoons
► rodomondario*
► sons of gobhawks
► pultogue
► fat country rozzers
► poguemahons
► pinkeens
► bloody gawms

* Google's only result for this word is the Google Book's search for text within this book itself. I'm starting to think Flann O'Brien made some of these up! This list alone is reason enough to read The Hard Life.

Kidding aside, i
C. A. Powell
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A young lad tells you the story from a very naive point of view. You get to look out at the world through his eyes but see things more realistically and very different from his fledgeling innocent take on life. You, the reader, are equipped with adult perception against the young lad's less mature and comical perspective. This is how you enter and see the delightful story unfold. The style of writing makes this comedy novel so charming and compelling. The presentation to the reader is crafted in ...more
senator jensen
Jul 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
a humor difficult to discern until i got to page 138, for some reason. in any case, i laughed until the end. flann o'brien was a genius writer that anyone who hopes to write funnily should read all the time. ...more
David Hogan
Oct 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm a Flann O'Brien fan and have read all his other novels. Though still interesting and intermittently funny, this novel felt slighter than some of his other works ('At Swim-Two-Birds' and 'The Third Policeman' especially) and lacking their sharper humor/satire. ...more
Colleen Patten
Dec 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of Irish Lit
Flann O'Brien has the richest trove of Gaelic expressions. How can you not like a book where the priest is named Father Fahrt? ...more
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Relentlessly test-driven in the pubs of Slovenia, there is no better compliment for your third pint of Guinness than this. Even the Pope makes an appearance. How can you beat that?
May 12, 2009 rated it liked it
pretty funny stuff - more straightforward than earlier flann o'brien books, and very slight at about 100 pages. might be a better entry point for new flann readers than two birds or policeman. ...more
Aug 04, 2009 rated it it was ok
a lot of this is going over my head... fairly funny none the less. I would very much like to include words such as thallabawn, bastoon and segocia into my daily vocabulary.
Nov 13, 2009 rated it really liked it

Fourth of the five in the Complete Novels.
Aug 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Good humor. A nice short story to read
ML Character
It's fine. Full of Irishisms. Not jawdropping like the Third Policeman though. Slightly disappointed since I've loved other O'Brien so much. ...more
Nov 14, 2015 rated it liked it
A diverting little read, as enjoyably written as any O'Brien/O'Nolan but without too much plot. It's full of fun Irish Catholic-ness, but I felt like it unraveled a bit... ...more
Mar 17, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5. Pretty good, but nowhere near the brilliance of The Third Policeman or The Dalkey Archive.
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great wit

...if you're a fan of 'Withnail and I'...
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Very odd indeed. Not at all what one expects from O'Brien. Sort of quirky, but too "normal," I feel like, for it's own good, and in the end you sort of wonder, huh. Was there a point to all that? ...more
Bradd Saunders
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Hard Life: An Exegesis of Squalor, by Flann O’Brien is intelligent and funny. A true Irishman, O’Brien’s works are a time capsule of perfectly crafted Irish vernacular and descriptions of turn-of-the-century, Irish life. It’s a world that barely exists now but still resonates because, while times have changed, people haven’t. And though his books often have difficulties with construction and theme they more than make up for it in their imagination, intelligence, insight, and sheer charm.

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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, Count

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