O'Carroll, Brendan 1955–
O'Carroll, Brendan 1955–
PERSONAL: Born 1955, in Dublin, Ireland; son of Maureen (a member of the Dáil); married (divorced).
ADDRESSES: Home—Dublin, Ireland. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Group, 345 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Writer and comedian. Worked variously as a waiter, disco manager, milkman, and painter/decorator; ran a bar and lounge before becoming a stand-up comic; has performed live across England, Scotland, and Canada. Appears in films The Van and Angela's Ashes.
AWARDS, HONORS: Voted Ireland's Number-One Variety Entertainer, National Entertainment Awards, 1994.
The Mammy (novel), O'Brien Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1994, published as Agnes Browne, Plume (New York, NY), 1999.
The Chisellers (novel), O'Brien Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1995.
The Course (play; produced in London, England, 1996), O'Brien Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1996.
The Granny (novel), O'Brien Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1996.
Sparrow's Trap (novel), O'Brien Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1997.
Mrs. Brown's Last Wedding (play), produced in London, England, 1999.
(With John Goldsmith) Agnes Brown (screenplay; based on his novel), 1999.
The Young Wan: An Agnes Browne Novel, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1955, the youngest of eleven children, Brendan O'Carroll left school at twelve years of age. He began working as a waiter while he tested other careers in his spare time, and tried his hand as a disco manager, a milkman, a pirate radio disc-jockey, and as a painter/decorator. He also spent time running his own bar and lounge before venturing onto the stage as a stand-up comic. O'Carroll started small, but word spread quickly and his performances were soon selling out. An appearance on Ireland's longest-running talk show The Late Late Show catapulted him to local stardom. His first video, Live at the Tivoli, was an immediate number-one hit, and in 1994 O'Carroll was voted the number-one variety entertainer in Ireland at the National Entertainment Awards.
O'Carroll's writing career was sparked by a meeting with actor Gabriel Byrne. Over coffee, Byrne noted that Hollywood was interested in Irish projects and he encouraged him to try writing a play, going so far as to send him instructional books by screenwriter Syd Field in order to get O'Carroll started. The result was The Mammy, a novel that O'Carroll later adapted into the film Agnes Browne. The novel recounts the experiences of a newly widowed mother of seven who finds her true self as she struggles to support her family. Michael Porter, in the New York Times Book Review, called the book a "cheerful first novel," saying of O'Carroll that "his narrative feels disjointed at times, but the novel is saved by the strength of its individual episodes, particularly a … delicious dessert of an ending." Dianna Moeller, in a review for Library Journal, wrote that "O'Carroll's depiction of 1960s working-class Irish life is animated and entertaining." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "like stand-up comics, the characters here are more clever and glib than ordinary people, but … irresistibly charming as they face their daily scrapes and heartbreaks." For the film version, O'Carroll collaborated with John Goldsmith to write the screenplay, and actress Angelica Huston both starred in the title role and directed.
Other novels followed in the "Agnes Browne" series. The Chisellers continues Agnes's adventures as her children begin to grow up and go out into the world where they meet success and failure alike. One son begins to manage a small furniture company, another son dies of a drug overdose, a third is revealed to be gay, and a fourth becomes an artist. Agnes herself moves on with her life, finding love once again. Andrew Greeley, in a review for America, commented that "the story is simple, the plot complications straightforward, the characterizations anything but elaborate. Yet the reader does not want to put the book down as it moves toward its bittersweet (but much more sweet than bitter) foregone conclusion." A contributor to Publishers Weekly wrote that the book was "by turns funny, wise, and heartbreaking."
In the third installment of O'Carroll's series, The Granny, Agnes Browne is on her death bed, reflecting on the hardships of her life. In an interview with Irish Voice contributor Tom Deignan, O'Carroll stated that the major influences on his childhood were female, and admitted that Agnes represents the mother he wished he had had, as he believed his own to have been too busy. Deignan commented that "indeed, in The Granny, Agnes now laments that she never sees all of her kids in one room anymore." Greeley, reviewing the novel for America, remarked that "the story may be sentimental, but it is very, very Irish in its sentiment. Good, solid, tear-stirring Irish sentiment covers a multitude of literary sins. Moreover, O'Carroll has a fine feel for the social and economic changes in Ireland during the last several decades…. He also has a fine ear for the way the Irish speak."
Though O'Carroll planned the "Agnes Browne" books as a trilogy, the popularity of the novels combined with pressure from his publishers and his own love of the character to convince him to address the early years of Agnes's life with a prequel. The Young Wan takes the reader back to Agnes's youth, and introduces a host of unusual relatives on her mother Connie's side. Connie came from a wealthy Protestant family, but was disinherited when she met and fell in love with Bosco and declared her plan to marry him. When Bosco, a labor organizer, is killed in a riot, Connie begins to lose her grip on reality and it falls to Agnes to find a way to take care of both her wild sister and her now-widowed mother. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews found the novel "likable, yet a disappointment; an awkward story that seems patched together from spare its of the previous trilogy." However, Nola Theiss, in a review for Kliatt, commented that The Young Wan "is filled with memorable characters," and suggested it would make a good starting point for those who have yet to read the rest of the series.
In addition to his writing, O'Carroll has continued to perform, adding film work to his resumé. His movie appearances include The Van and Angela's Ashes.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, April 8, 2000, Andrew Greeley, "The Unsinkable Agnes Browne," review of The Chisellers; December 9, 2000, Andrew Greeley, "Agnes at Rest," p. 27.
Booklist, May 1, 1999, Ray Olson, review of The Mammy, p. 1578.
Entertainment Weekly, April 30, 1999, Margot Mifflin, Vanessa V. Friedman, and Charles Winecoff, review of The Mammy, p. 88.
Irish Voice, August 24, 1999, "O'Carroll Eyes Brando for Movie," p. 2; August 8, 2000, Tom Deignan, "The Craic: Havin' a 'Granny' Old Time," p. 21.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2003, review of The Young Wan, p. 17.
Kliatt, May, 2004, Nola Theiss, review of The Young Wan, p. 22.
Library Journal, May 1, 1999, Dianna Moeller, review of The Mammy, p. 112.
New York Times Book Review, July 18, 1999, Michael Porter, review of The Mammy, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1999, review of The Mammy, p. 45; February 14, 2000, review of The Chisellers, p. 174; July 3, 2000, review of The Mammy, p. 25; July 10, 2000, review of The Mammy, The Chisellers, and The Granny, p. 47.
Variety, May 31, 1999, Emanuel Levy, review of film version of Agnes Browne, p. 32.
AllMoviePortal.com, http://www.allmovieportal.com/ (December 8, 2004), "Brendan O'Carroll."
Celtic Café Online, http://www.celticcafe.com/ (December 8, 2004), "Brendan O'Carroll."
Doollee.com, http://www.doollee.com/ (December 8, 2004), "Brendan O'Carroll."
Fantastic Fiction Web site, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (December 8, 2004), "Brendan O'Carroll."
O'Brien Books Web site, http://www.obrien.ie/ (December 8, 2004), "Brendan O'Carroll."
Penguin Books Canada Web site, http://www.penguin.ca/ (December 7, 2004).