The Runts of the Litter
Austen Breaffa
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Austen Breaffa's *The Runts of the Litter* The Runts of the Litter
Austen Breaffa
Pale Blue Books
198 pages
Copyright 1998
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The first novel by reclusive Irish author Austen Breaffa has drawn comparison to fellow Dubliner Flann O'Brien's legendary satirical flair. That's pretty impressive, especially given the possibly deliberate amateurish style of the Pale Blue Books edition. The cover art is plain, the typesetting is unusual, and it's as if the copy editors had gone without sleep for about 72 hours before working on typos and word misuses throughout the text.

Curled Up With a Good BookThat all said, The Runts of the Litter rises above such drawbacks on the strength of its irreverent humor and delightfully surreal plot. Ernest and Jon (an unpublished poet and a struggling actor, respectively) are kicked out of their Dublin apartment by their apparently heartless landlord. On the dole and out of work, the two use their refunded deposit to get as completely and permanently drunk as possible. When the buzz starts wearing off and their money runs out, they set out on a journey seeking money and revenge that will take them all the way from the capital city's dingiest ghettoes to the fresh air and old ways of the Aran Islands off Ireland's west coast.

Ernest's constant confabulations (especially about his imaginary theses on every imaginable subject) coupled with his ability to instantly enrage strangers get the pair into more than their fair share of scuffles. Still, it is Ernest who, however misguidedly, propels their misadventures with his scheme to rob their former landlord. Jon's spiritual side has been plaguing him ever since a hospitalization for asthma, but despite his dubiousness he tags along wherever Ernest pulls him. Running from a death threat by the mysterious people known as "the Travellers" for accidentally killing their leader, Ernest and Jon come across as wickedly interesting kinds of people as they might possibly meet -- a weary but sassy convenient store clerk, an old roommate gone yuppie, a farmer/scientist who's engineered a herd of appallingly (and threateningly) large cows who are kept in line by a similarly oversized dog, a citizens' vigilante brigade, and, of course, their not-exactly-evil landlord.

The Runts of the Litter is currently available only through either a small distributor in Ireland or the publisher. An announcement on the author's web site indicates that the book has been bought by a large Dublin house with a projected republication date of September. Presumably the copy errors will be fixed, the typesetting reworked, the cover redone and the book itself made more readily available. Breaffa shows fine comedic potential here (it's easy to picture a film based on the book); with luck and a little aggressive marketing by the new publishers, he will be able to reach a much broader audience.

© 2000 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book

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