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Brendan Behan: A Life Hardcover – October 10, 2000
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From Library Journal
Irish writer Brendan Behan (1923-64) was adored unconditionally by his beloved Granny, endowed with a great love of the written word by his father, and inspired to embrace republicanism and the IRA by his mother. During his internment for the attempted shooting of two policemen, he began the writing that would bring him world renown. Once out of prison, he found literary recognition in Paris with his short stories while continuing to work as a Dublin house painter; he also launched on the legendary drinking that led to his diabetes and death. His prison drama, The Quare Fellow, was produced in Dublin in 1954, and in 1955 he married Beatrice ffrench-Salkeld, who suffered intense emotional and physical abuse at his hands. O'Sullivan, a broadcaster and the literary editor of the Irish political magazine Magill, accessed archives heretofore untouched to offer the best biography of Behan since Ulrick O'Connor's Bendan (LJ 8/71). He considers Behan in all his contradictions: both shy and spirited, he was a show-off and a vicious drunk who nevertheless possessed a remarkable ear for the language of the ordinary man. O'Sullivan also addresses Behan's rumored bisexuality. What results is a disturbing and enlightening biography.ARobert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Writer, playwright, braggart, wit, liar, drunkard, quarreler, shit--Brendan Behan was a mass of contradictions. Simultaneously creative and destructive, funny and offensive, charming as heck and hell to get along with, he made friends easily and enemies almost as quickly. He packed so much into his short life--smuggling bombs for the IRA in his teens, international recognition as a writer in his early 30s, death at 41--that a biographer is hard-put to contain him in a mere book. Still, O'Sullivan pressed on, valiantly collecting every scrap of information he could about Behan, including lost letters from prison, hitherto inaccessible files in Britain, forgotten articles, and personal interviews, and reporting everything of interest and then some. At times the mass of facts and memories threatens to overwhelm, and O'Sullivan, a graceful, forceful writer, labors like the devil to find order in the chaos of Behan's life. Find an order he does, though, transforming the heap of letters, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, and transcriptions Behan left behind into a life story as compelling as the one Behan actually lived. Jack Helbig --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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However, the author has been careless. Behan was not allocated to St Michael's House but to St George's. Indeed there was no St Michael's House, but rather St Davids, St Andrews, and St Patrick's. Neville Heath, Behan's house-captain in St George's was later hanged but not in 1950 as O'Sullivan states, but in 1946. Some of the references to Borstal Boy give the wrong page. These were some errors I immediately spotted, and I suspect that there will be many more. Errors such as these, minor in themselves, undermine the authority of what should be the standard biography of this tragi-comic figure.
A second, related issue is the roll-call of tragedy from Behan's “dead as doornails” generation; his friend O Riada dead also in his early 40's; O Nuallain, mid-50's; Kavanagh mid 60's. Move forward a generation and Gallagher and Lynott continue the tradition; Dublin is a most dangerous place for an artist.
A third route is the absolutisms he grew up with; a 32 county Ireland both free and Gaelic. His devotion to the Irish language is a powerful theme here in this book In the early 1990's, Dan Ryan, OC of the IRA in West Clare, was laid to rest. His family refused permission for the gun-volley send-off. Behan received one; there is no reason to doubt that he remained an IRA member all his life.
This despite the “love” of the English which, one guesses, was rather forced on him in the Borstals. It is horrible to watch the subsequent tragedy unfold, and it is to the credit of O'Sullivan that one does not doubt from halfway through that nothing but ill will ensue from “notoriety” which has a darker valence in the English which Behan mastered in the footsteps of his cultured father
Behan had remarkable success as a playwright and author and his works are as intrinsically Irish as any of the many great authors Ireland has produced. Reading this biography was valuable in enhancing my appreciation for his work and inspired me to go back and reread his own words. This is really a fine biography that gives a true perspective into Behan as a human being not just as a writer.