The Hard Life … An Exegesis of Squalor.

London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1961.

8vo., pp. 157; red publisher’s cloth, stamped in gilt on spine; slight roll to spine, otherwise a near-fine copy in a mildly worn, near-fine, unclipped dust-jacket.


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First edition. A short comic novel described by O’Brien’s biographer Anthony Cronin as ‘a small masterpiece’, The Hard Life recounts the turn-of-the-century doings of a nameless narrator and the characters around him, with a remote, disdainful calmness and clarity. Set in the same turn-of-the-century Dublin as Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, it consists, as Cronin says, of a series of conversation pieces that are ‘classics of pointless dialectic’ – a brand of comedy O’Brien’s pseudonymous journalist, Myles na Gopaleen, spent years perfecting in his Irish Times column.

Praised by the reviewers, The Hard Life’s sales were disappointingly moderate. Graham Greene, who in 1939 had championed O’Brien’s first novel, wrote to him: ‘At Swim-Two-Birds has remained to my mind ever since it first appeared as one of the best books of our century. But my God, what a long time it has been waiting for the next one.’

Quotations taken from The New York Review of Books, November, 1999.

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