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More Micks than Dicks: A Hybrid beckettian Novella in 3 Genres by Peter O'Neill - Review by Ross Breslin

“More Micks Than Dicks: A Hybrid Beckettian Novella in 3 Genres” is a strange beast indeed. Part prose narrative, part academic dissertation and part poetry cycle, it’s a thoroughly postmodern work that—in the hands of a lesser talent—could very easily have failed in its unwieldly ambition to function as a cohesive work. Really, it would take the mind of a poet to conceptualize how something like this could, against the odds, work so well. Serendipitously, Peter O’Neill is most certainly that.

And so is his Author-surrogate, White—the protagonist of the novelistic aspects of the work. White, the poet, has been invited to enter the stuffy halls of academia to present a talk on the influences of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus on the Samuel Beckett novel “Comment C’est”. He’ll be speaking at the HQ of The Beckett Society of Ireland, no less, for an international conference on “Samuel Beckett and Ireland”. What does Heraclitus have to do with Ireland, you might wonder? White doesn’t much care. He has something to say and he’s finally found his forum to do it in. For someone like White, attempting to hedge a great like Beckett into any one particular time or place would be pathetically redundant anyway.

And this, in fact, is the main conflict of the first half of the book—the contrast between poetic thinking and academic thinking. How, O’Neill may be asking, is it possible to truly understand a work of art without primarily thinking like an artist? He has a point.

Of course, that’s not to say that White—or indeed the book itself—shies away from the academic. In what could be perhaps a jarring shift to those not knowing what to expect, as White takes centre stage in preparation of his talk, the narrative style of the book shifts to that of an academic paper, complete with copious and well-researched annotations. As far as I know the bulk of the “Embodying Be-ING – Beckett and Heraclitus” academic section that follows is based on a real-life lecture that O’Neill has given and it shows. As someone who missed out on much of the spoils of a traditional third-level education (and even then is nowhere near as well-versed as O’Neill in the classics of literature and philosophy), I found myself both fascinated and more than a little overwhelmed by the depth of concepts, theories and references presented here—and this wasn’t even the first time I’d read the piece. For someone better accustomed to the academic approach to literary heritage, however, I suspect this section in particular will be a source of much delight. For the rest of us it presents a challenge that is certainly worth overcoming for the rewards within. I suppose, then, that the best audience for “More Micks than Dicks” would be, like White—not to mention O’Neill himself—both artist and academic. Funny that...

After his lecture the narrative returns to prose form as we follow White as he butts horns with his fellow speakers and then joins them for an increasingly booze-soaked traipse about the city. I found the conclusion to all this so unexpectedly and delightfully nihilistic that I literally sat up straight and laughed out loud. It’s a rare thing to be so pleasantly and viscerally surprise by a book like that.

As the drink takes White’s brain, we slip into an even more free-form style of narrative in the series of poetry cycles that follow. It’s a kind of best-of of O’Neill’s other collections, as we revisit those poetic offerings in his past oeuvre that were most influenced by the ideas and concepts that went before in this book. The realm of “Ephesus” appears again and again, not as the historical homestead of Heraclitus, but as a kind of literary Valhalla where mythological figures, infamous protagonists and the great authors who created them mingle together, in a manner not dissimilar to the many inhabitants of Dante’s Comedy. It is these threads of connection that embed the poetry section of the work with a deeply symbolic sense of narrative, that follows somehow both seamlessly and apparently subconsciously from the sections that preceded it. As I said above it would only occur to a poet to tell a story in this way. Only a poet could predict its success.

I suppose it might seem somewhat paradoxical then to say that it was the poems that bore the least connection to the over-arching themes that stood out most to me when presented in this cycle—perhaps because the others have been assimilated so successfully into the wider form of the tome. Poems like Charles De Gaulle Airport and A Fistful of Dollars with their simple, humanistic pathos and passion I found to be all the more affecting for appearing as a window into a more real world than that of the Bacchusian dream figures that run amok throughout the rest. It is in these brief moments that we meet not the poet but the person, not “White” perhaps but “O’Neill” himself. He’s a fine fellow indeed.

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