Memoirs of a Public Baby

Philip O'Connor, Author W. W. Norton & Company $18.95 (229p) ISBN 978-0-393-02763-1
Seldom has a writer described his own chaotic boyhood and early manhood with so much self-flagellating mockery. Abandoned by his Irish mother, a ``fallen gentlewoman,'' O'Connor grew up in a seedy hotel, in a brewery, in a cellar, in a French peasant woman's pastry shop. In London, he developed an intense dislike of English snobbery as he ran into ``a wall of nervous, persnickety tabus'' that stifled social interaction. His contempt for bourgeois values and conformity is reflected in wickedly mordant comments on himself, his friends and acquaintances. Like new suits of clothes, he dons and discards intellectual fashions--surrealism, communism, Nietzsche, D. H. Lawrence. He spends six months in a mental hospital, then has a sexually frustrating affair wth a cultured, unbalanced woman who nearly axes him and is herself hospitalized. We leave him in 1945, ``started . . . on a halting road to conformity.'' Published in Britain in 1958 and only now appearing in the U.S., this prickly, painfully funny autobiography still rings true. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1989
Release date: 10/01/1989
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