BORN ON The Aran Islands in 1896, Liam O’Flaherty was to become one of the most distinguished and prolific writers of 20th century Ireland. His first book, Thy Neighbour’s Wife, was published in 1923 and was followed by an avalanche of novels, short stories, and poems in English and as Gaeilge, as well as travelogues.
Several of his books were banned by the Irish Censorship Board and his leanings towards Communist Russia were more than frowned upon by the ultra Catholic ethos which dominated the newly independent Irish state.
His characters were drawn from the fields and stones of the Aran Islands as well as the streets and lanes of Galway and Dublin. His prose was immediate and strong, and he was particularly at home with the birds and the beasts of the fields and rivers. As the blurb on this new edition of his 1935 novel, Hollywood Cemetery, re-published by Nuascálta, tells us: "His writing combines a graphic and striking naturalism, acute psychological analysis, poetry and biting satire, together with an abiding sympathy for the common man and anger against injustice."
'The book was published the same year as O’Flaherty’s cousin, John Ford, made the film adaptation of O’Flaherty’s 1925 novel The Informer. There is also the strong theory O’Flaherty was satirising the director'
However Hollywood Cemetery is something of an aberration in O'Flaherty's work. The first sentence suggests the author himself is not totally comfortable with his material: ”At the last moment I find myself unable to introduce my heroine in the manner I had intended, owing to the universal prejudice entertained in this age against describing a certain human function."
What follows can only be described as a romp, in all the connotations of that word, beginning in the fields of Connemara and ending on the red carpet of Hollywood. The novel centres on Irish writer Brian Carey, who is working with an American producer, Jack Mortimer; his companion-secretary Larry Defoe; and a cameraman named Shultz, to make a film of Carey's novel The Emigrant. Throw Mortimer’s great find, the sensational "Irish Colleen" Angela into the mix and you have all the ingredients of the "super film of all films".
'It brings to mind the slapstick style underlying the Hollywood film industry of the 1930s and 1940s'
The veteran O’Flaherty reader might be somewhat at sea and confused. There are traces of a poor crime novel and O’Flaherty could be accused of trying to emulate Mickey Spillane or the great detective writer of Irish descent, Raymond Chandler. On the other hand, the book has a strong satirical string to it, with traces of Spike Milligan, and it brings to mind the slapstick style underlying the Hollywood film industry of the 1930s and 1940s.
Bearing in mind that the book was published the same year as O’Flaherty’s cousin, John Ford, made the film adaptation of O’Flaherty’s 1925 novel The Informer, there is also the strong theory that O’Flaherty was satirising the famous director.
The book may not be the book of all books, but it does have its high points, especially when the reader leaves all criticism aside and enjoys it for what it is: a good laugh.
Hollywood Cemetery will be launched by film-maker Bob Quinn in the Galway City Library on Wednesday April 10 at 6pm, at an event organised by The Liam & Tom O’Flaherty Society. All are welcome.