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The Chisellers

by Brendan O'Carroll

ISBN 086278414X / 9780862784140 / 0-86278-414-X
Publisher O'Brien Press Ltd
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

In his introduction to this second episode in the rollicking trilogy that began with The Mammy (1994), Brendan O'Carroll explains that his greatest surprise and pleasure, in the wake of his newfound literary success, was meeting people who told him it was the first book they had ever read. And it's easy to imagine how new readers would be drawn in by engaging, larger-than-life characters, colorful dialogue, and high-spirited plot. The Chisellers opens in 1970, with the widow Agnes Browne still struggling to raise her brood (the chisellers of the title) alone, although the broad-shouldered Mark is now an apprentice carpenter and Rory, his gay brother, is an apprentice hair stylist. Agnes may be too caught up in her exciting bingo win of 310 pounds to notice that little Dermot is developing a dangerous taste for shoplifting, but she frequently wrings her hands over Frankie, a neo-Nazi thug who has been expelled from school.

Into this flurry of daily concerns and excitements comes a letter from the local housing authority, notifying her that all the indigent families in her neighborhood are being relocated from their shabby but familiar tenements in the center of Dublin to new houses in a distant suburb. At the sad but raucous farewell party at the pub, Agnes sits drinking cider "in her usual corner," remembering her best friend, Marion, who died three years before: "Ah Jaysus, Marion, listen to them!" she muses. "The music of The Jarro! Will we ever hear the likes of it again?"

The music to which Agnes referred could not be played on any instrument, but was the cackle of voices and rhythmic banter of the inner-city folk, the symphony of unanswered questions and impossible statements, that were so much of the colour of Dublin: "Hey, Mr. Foley. A vodka with ice--and fresh ice, none of that frozen stuff!" This would be followed by a howl of laughter.
As you read, it is impossible not to envision a feel-good film of The Chisellers (Anjelica Huston directed The Mammy) and to admire O'Carroll's comic skill, even if his sunny, too-tidy conclusion to the novel makes Frank McCourt read like Dostoyevsky. --Regina Marler [via]