Born in Dublin, O'Connor graduated from University College, Dublin, in 1986, and later briefly attended Oxford University and worked for the British Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign. He has been a journalist and has written television and film scripts and a biography of the Irish poet Charles Donnelly. In 1989, he won the Sunday Tribune First Fiction and New Irish Writer of the Year Awards. In 1990, he won the Time Out magazine Writing Prize and was short-listed for the Whitbread Prize for his first novel, Cowboys and Indians [Add To Basket]. In 1993, he was awarded the Macaulay Fellowship of the Irish Arts Council.
The critical reception to O'Connor's first three works - Cowboys and Indians (1991) [Add To Basket], True Believers (1991) [Add To Basket], and Desperadoes (1994) [Add To Basket] - was mixed. While many critics applauded his eye for contemporary life, others chided his works for relying too much on shock value and having, at times, an unpolished writing style. An accurate reading probably lies somewhere in the middle. Undoubtedly O'Connor has a sharp eye for the less glamorous side of life; his is a kind of realism that would make the Irish realist writers of the 1930s and 1940s blush. Yet, the potential for impressive accomplishments to come is obviously there. In Cowboys and Indians [Add To Basket], O'Connor creates a wonderful character in Eddie Virago, a would-be rock star with a Mohawk hairstyle and a troubled personal life. In many ways, Virago is a 1990s Stephen Dedalus; indeed, the protagonist even draws the comparison himself. While the overall depth and artistry of the book are not on the same level as those of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [Add To Basket], the parallels exist. In Cowboys and Indians [Add To Basket], O'Connor does a fine job of illustrating the malaise of what has come to be known as "Generation X" - self-discovery and self-definition. Caught up in a world of alcohol and drugs, Virago stumbles through a life of emigration in London, determined to distance himself from Ireland and his past. When he finally decides that what he really wants is a meaningful relationship with his girlfriend, Marion, Virago discovers that the Donegal woman has a past more complex and horrible than his own. As a debut, Cowboys and Indians [Add To Basket] is impressive because of O'Connors ability to capture realistically the sense of confusion and anguish in the characters' lives.
The opening story of O'Connor's collection entitled True Believers [Add To Basket] features the return of Eddie Virago in "Last of the Mohicans." The collection highlights some of O'Connor's best traits as a writer: realism and a style that breaks from the tightly structured traditional Irish short story. His main theme, however, is traditionally Irish: exile. With a focus on London's Irish émigrés, O'Connor gives a voice to a group of people who have been largely ignored: Nipples (New Irish Professional Person,) as they are called in the story "The Wizard of Oz." Again, at times the storytelling and technique could be smoother, but O'Connor's characters and shrewd observations of contemporary life make True Believers [Add To Basket] a fine collection. O'Connor's second novel, Desperadoes [Add To Basket] is an ambitious work that shows a development in the writing style and storytelling skill. Ostensibly, it is a story about Dubliners Frank and Eleanor Little going to Nicaragua to collect the body of their slain son. The time and setting, 1985 and Managua and a host of small towns caught up in the Sandanista-Contra battle for power, give the work a sense of urgency and desperation. O'Connor's realism makes Desperadoes [Add To Basket] an engaging and believable narrative; and the descriptions of the places, the heat, and the people are photographic. Yet, as Frank Little points out a number of times, take away the heat and humidity, and Nicaragua is Ireland: green fields, impressive mountains, an abundance of poor people struggling to make a living, and dependence on the agricultural past. While the action centers on the arduous process the Littles must go through to find their son, Johnny (who went to Nicaragua to escape his family and "assist" in the fight for freedom), the core of the account is how Frank and Eleanor sort out their failed marriage and the toll it took on each other and their son. O'Connor does a wonderful job of alternating the action in Nicaragua and of tracing the Littles' lives that led to the troubled situation . When they finally discover that Johnny is alive but in prison for transporting drugs for the Contras, father, mother, and son struggle to come to terms with their past. Like Cowboys and Indians [Add To Basket], Desperadoes [Add To Basket] offers a collection of entertaining characters, ranging from Johnny's rich American rebel friend and rock-and-roll bandmate Smokes, to Lorenzo, a blind guitar player who sold his soul to the devil to be able to play the blues. The most impressive aspect of the novel, though, is O'Connor's insight into the emotional state of his characters. Some may credit this to a maturation in his writing style or a stronger plot. Regardless, O'Connor continues to prove that his work is among young Ireland's best and that he, along with Roddy Doyle, Dermot Bolger, and Colm Toibin, is the nucleus of the revival of the Irish novel.
(Shawn O'Hare - from Dictionary of Irish Literature edited by Robert Hogan, published by Greenwood Press)
O'Connor's most recent novel, The Salesman [Add To Basket], has just been published. Set in Dublin in 1994 during one of the hottest summers since records began, Billy Sweeney, a middle-aged satellite dish salesman, is about the commit murder. Following a violent robbery at her work place, his youngest daughter Maeve lies unconscious. Devastated by the consequences of that terrible event, failed by the system and maddened by guilt, his very sanity seems to be slipping away - until fate takes a strange turn, plunging him into a blood-curdling act of vengeance. Alone, obsessed and wandering the city by night, he finds himself stalking a young man through the streets of a seaside suburb, gathering information on his movements, building a mental picture of an enemy he has never met and ultimately planning the perfect crime. But when Sweeney's plans go spectacularly wrong, the results are terrifying, often bleakly hilarious and in the end unforgettably chilling.
Part black-comic confession, part psychological thriller, at heart a wistful recollection of a passionate and once tender love affair, The Salesman [Add To Basket] builds powerfully into the story of a life changed for ever by the events of a few short weeks. As that sweltering summer finally comes to an end, Billy Sweeney discovers the shattering truth of an old motto: be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.
O'Connor is also the author of two of the funniest Irish books ever published: The Secret Life of the Irish Male [Add To Basket] is a headlong, lovestruck, end-of-the millenium, coast-to-coast tour of the frustrations, contradictions and giddying glories of being Irish in the 1990s.
Dissecting the cultural icons of our time, from the Taoiseach to the taxi driver, from the kiwi-flavoured condom to the Kilfenora ceilidh band, and discoursing on everyone from James Joyce to Jesus Christ, from Rolf Harris to Daniel O'Donnell, O'Connor picks his way between sinking pints in London- Irish pubs to pumping iron in Dublin gymnasia. Here is fear and loathing, pity and terror, country and western, love, rock and roll, and football - and a vivid, perceptive and utterly hilarious portrait of modern Irish life. From flirting lessons in downtown Manhattan to being offered a good "ride" in Disneyland by the now legendary Wanda, it was a long, strange and hilarious trip.
The Irish Male at Home and Abroad [Add To Basket] is the equally hilarious sequel: faster and funnier. Impersonating Santa Claus in a busy Dublin store on Christmas Eve, "spending a penny" in Lord Jeffrey Archer's penthouse bathroom, traipsing the local-radio publicity circuit in 100-degree Australian heat, on the run in revolutionary Nicaragua, contemplating the Shroud of Turin, or making a deposit in a grotty sperm bank - here are tall tales and short stories: absurd, anarchic and unforgettably side-splitting adventures from home and abroad.
Laugh-out-loud funny, yet always affectionate and sometimes poignant, O'Connor roams through an Ireland of wife-swapping sodomites and late-night sodalities, when hot getting lost in the restless new Europe of beach holidays, terrible beauties and Baywatch lookalikes. [Add To Basket]
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