The Dalkey Archive Hardcover – 1964
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Top Customer Reviews
The book's more satirical elements never impinge on the laughs to be had from the farcical expolits of De Selby in his twisted plot to deprive the work of oxygen.
Read The Third Policeman and then this. You will be extremely pleased.
There is little of plot here - two young Irish gentlemen meet by chance a mad scientist and having learned about his plan to annihilate humanity try to stop him from doing so. Characters as different as St Augustine and James Joyce make cameo appearances but they add little to the slim plot. The sad facts of the case are that O'Brien failed to make the expected splash with his first novel, his second wasn't even published and he went on making a brilliant career as a satirical columnist. When twenty years later At Swim-Two-Birds was resurrected and hailed as the first post-modern novel, he tried to go back to writing fiction but with little artistic success. And yet this is a classic so why not give it a chance?
The Dalkey Archive is much more than a novel and at the same time much less than a story. There are linear threads of sorts that run through the book, but they are often knotted or broken. But the real ambition of the book seems to be something different from story-telling, something more akin to a flippant, sometimes facetious examination of the relationship between received assumption, demonstrable fact and identity-endowing allegiance.
On the face of it, The Dalkey Archive is something of a farce. There is this fellow called Mick, who is generally surprised by the use of Michael. He has an acquaintance called De Selby who claims both theories and capabilities, one of which is the ability to manufacture a substance capable of sucking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. He has plans.
But his greatest achievement is to attend a meeting with Saint Augustine of Hippo set up by De Selby, where the attendees can grill the Saint about, amongst other things, his dabbling with Manicheanism and his sexual preferences. But this is no story cast in black and white, though it may make claim to the mundane.
Another of Mick's adventures is to locate James Joyce, reportedly resident nearby. He wants to ask the great man a few questions about his work. He traces Joyce to a seaside resort called Skerries, which means he is on the rocks.Read more ›
It starts promisingly, with our hero Mick encountering the villain de Selby, who has decided to eliminate the unworthy human race, using a substance he has concocted, which removes all oxygen from the atmosphere. A side-effect is that it also eliminates time, and so de Selby and Mick spend time in an underwater cave, all oxygen removed, wearing breathing apparatus, where de Selby talks to religious saints like St Augustine.
And here I got my first warning. The conversation with St Augustine is long-winded & theological, & I had to skip to the next chapter. The remainder of the book is really quite pedestrian writing, entailing a long slow meander as Mick endeavours to thwart de Selby's plans. The only imaginative passage from then on is the strange theory expounded by Sergeant Fottrell about "mollycules", whereby he holds that extensive riding of bicycles results in a mingling of the molecules between bike & rider, with amusing results.
However this is not enough to rescue the book, nor is Mick's subsequent recruitment of James Joyce, whom he unearths quietly retreated from the world as a simple barman near Dublin. His conversations with Joyce are like the Augustine sequence, filled with theological meanderings concerning Catholic doctrine, and tedious.
In fact the final chapter featuring Mick and Joyce could well have been written by a rather dull 16-year old schoolboy, so lacking in substance is it.
If you're an O'Brien fanatic (and some are) then you might read it for completeness, but don't expect anything much from the philosopher/scientist de Selby, whose thoughts run madly through "Third Policeman". After the intriguing beginning, he just peters out, as does the book as a whole.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wry, dry and fantastic. What more could you want from a book? If any of my friends are looking for a read, they are nearly always drawn to this on our book case.Published on 9 Dec. 2012 by Acathla
If you have read "The Third Policeman" then you do not need to read this. If you have not read "The Third Policeman" then do so because it is much much better then this. Read morePublished on 21 April 2009 by Godzilla The Hun