Reviews - What do customers think about Dead as Doornails: A Memoir?
"Our friends suffer from our expectations" Dec 13, 2004
My subject line quotes Cronin, and serves as a summary of his devastating portrayal of the sadness beneath the frolicking attributed and appropriated by Brendan Behan for much of this narrative. Reading this in tandem with John Ryan's "Remembering How We Stood," it's instructive to find how much the two memoirs of bohemian, post-war Dublin overlap yet each keeps its own particular focus separate even as they cover so many similar events: Behan's self-promotion, Kavanagh's libel litigation, and Flann O'Brien's insular inspiration. The Scots painters "The Roberts" receive greater detail here than in Ryan, as he knows them in London and follows their troubled relationship further. Likewise, Cronin provides a pre-fame Behan in all his exasperating energy as the two bum about France. Ryan keeps his attention on the Dublin setting from which he witnessed the literati's coming and going; Cronin brings in the Continent and Britain to widen the perspective, often offering greater detail if no less a careful analysis than Ryan. As a fellow writer, Cronin--unlike the publican/editor of Envoy Ryan--was seen by Kavanagh especially as competition, and this intensity adds dynamism to Cronin's descriptions of his conniving compatriots.
Certainly there is humor, but more profoundly, melancholy. Drink, sexual repression and expression, and the limitations of what Ireland could offer talented writers in this repressed era makes for cautionary tales about how short-lived fame can be and how crippling it can be for those whose lives outlast their genius. Cronin's briefer, later encounters with his subjects after they have fallen from the heights gain poignancy even as he refuses to sentimentalise his (former) friends, since they too often all too easily refuse to take blame for their own fate.
When I read about Julian Mclaren-Ross, I figured this minor figure was popular in the Edwardian period; when Cronin reveals that this once-recognised author was then--deep in decline--only in his forties, it only underscored the brevity of renown and the long slide afterwards so many must endure from the creative ranks. Cronin writes precisely, without cliche, self-pity, or cruelty. Along with Ryan, Cronin's non-autobiographical (!) memoir marks a celebration and an epitaph for 1945-55, more or less, among a coterie who sabotaged their own potential--even as they tried to achieve more than their society dared allow for them.
(Cronin's fictionalisation, Life of Riley, on this period is also worth reading, as are his incisive biographies of Flann O'Brien and--a figure curiously absent from Dead as Doornails even in an aside--Samuel Beckett.)
Writers and Their Milieu Recalled Well Sep 3, 2000
Cronin gives the reader an enjoyable, sometimes amusing, portrayal of three of of Ireland's greatest modern writers: Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O'Brien. His descriptions of pre-fame Brendan Behan are excellent. They show the young and adventurous Behan as he was before fame, drink, and self-parody overtook him. It was somewhat disappointing that Flann O'Brien, author of skilled and imaginative works (At-Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman) was himself an alcoholic with, nonetheless, a bourgeois, sometimes puritanical personality. All these writers (and others everywhere)tended to be petty, egoistic, and hyper-critical, especially about their contemporaries' work. But this does not make them uninteresting, and one should always separate art from artist.