Sinead's light-hearted brother

BOOKS THE SECRET WORLD OF THE IRISH MALE by Joseph O'Connor, Minerva pounds 5.99
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The Independent Culture
JOSEPH O'Connor is the young Irish writer, humorist and playwright of Cowboys and Indians and Desperadoes fame. These novels (the first short- listed for the Whitbread) helped establish him as one of Ireland's brightest stars. His trademark is an often outrageous, inevitably acerbic and invariably funny prose style. O'Connor offers a view of life as seen through Irish eyes that are not so much smiling as smirking: a sort of Hornby on stout. His staple occupation is that of journalist, and much of The Secret World ... is recycled from his column in Ireland's Sunday Tribune.

First the bad news. Cobbling together several unconnected articles into something resembling a whole is an endeavour most often doomed to failure, especially when the links are as clumsy as: "Of course, you have to be careful about relaxing, too" when flitting between the subjects of rock festivals and student demonstrations - in this case by means of seeing the Irish defence minister on television (er, relaxing). And maybe there's just too much - like the six pages devoted to an obscure Irish TV programme.

These quibbles aside, The Secret World ... has much to commend it. Highlights include a surreal telephone call to London department store Liberty, as well as revealing interviews with a nice-but-troubled Terry Waite and a not-so-nice-but-deserves-to-be-troubled Steven Berkoff. Added seasoning comes from O'Connor's uncanny ear for accents: his Dublin taxi drivers, for instance, could slide off the page and drive you home - and drive you mad. Oddly perhaps, Joseph's famous sister Sinead is mentioned only once by name. Her identity is hinted at elsewhere ('a certain hot-headed relation of mine'), but the sole name-check comes in a section about football chants: "The high point of the evening, for me, is when my dear sister Sinead's poignant lament 'Nothing Compares 2 U' is sublimely reinterpreted as 'Nothing Compares 2 Phil Babb'." You can't help coming to the conclusion that brother and sister don't really hit it off ...

Give O'Connor something meaty to chomp his incisors into - such as travelling around America with Irish World Cup fans, or attending an unlicensed boxing match in Streatham - and he's away, producing work that's approaching the standard of past masters Myles na Gopaleen and Patrick Campbell. Where O'Connor falls down is that, while their collections were carefully selected from years of material, here the good, the not-so-bad and the ungainly come in roughly equal measures.

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