Letters to Mother and Other Dead Relatives

Review in Munster Express on 16 Aug 2016


now available on Amazon in paperback & ebook

The Waterford-born writer
and playwright, Tom O’Brien,
has a new semi-autobiographical
book out and he uses the literary
device of letters to dead
relatives to retrace growing
up in the cruel poverty of the
fi fties and sixties generation.
Circumstances and a ‘jackthe-
lad’ existence of bravado
and dipping into the collection
basket as an altar boy sets him
on a rocky road to seek work,
good times, fame and a place
in the world.
His previous books and
plays refl ect on a grey, unforgiving
Waterford, where
youthful ‘divilment’ was not
only frowned on but actively
and forcefully hammered out
of him. Yet there is hardly a
trace of bitterness in this book
with the long title – Letter To
My Mother And Other Dead
Relatives. He was a product of
a secretive time where ‘least
said, easiest mended’ and ‘keep
yourselves to yourselves’. He
clearly didn’t have a happy
childhood and you sense the
painful ‘distance’ between him
and his mother and relatives.
The death of an aunt in
London who died intestate
caused O’Brien to seek out
his family history and the revelations
became the subject
matter of these ‘Letters’ and
some of his London produced
The opening sentence in this
book says it all: “Dear Mother,
we never had much to say to
each other when you were
alive”. Within these letters,
there is not only a chronicle
of as possibly misspent youth
from job to job, from digs to
digs, with midnight fl its and
bills unpaid. A lot of drink
is consumed, dodgy deals
attempted, gambling scams
and a wonderful period when
he was in partnership with the
Mean Fiddler owner and childhood
friend, Vince Power.
I am not sure how much
O’Brien has embellished the
aspects of his ‘jack-the-lad’
existence, and his deportation
from England at one stage.
He is an excellent and colourful
writer, as his London successes
will attest to. I suspect
he dresses up the truth to keep
the reader attentive but, in the
process, he reveals a lot of hurt
and possibly regret. He seems
to need not just recognition
and affi rmation in London but
also to be accepted in his home
place. This ‘dislocation’ and
realisation that, in a sense, ‘you
can never go back’ to the past
yet you cannot shake off that
past is evident in these Letters.
Sometimes, writers reveal
more than they might wish or
realise and that is the fascination
of Tom O’Brien’s story. I
suspect that fame in London
does not compensate for a lack
of recognition in his home

Liam Murphy

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