There seem some who delight in bad news, who find a perverse sense of enjoyment in tales of suffering. The Covid-19 crisis seems to have given license for the retelling of tales where each person finds satisfaction in outdoing the previous speaker. It is almost as though being regarded as a credible and authentic person depends upon being able to tell the grimmest tale.
Perhaps there are writers whose work will satirise the mood of the times. Someone comparable with the Irish writer Flann O’Brien who was cruel in his satirising of those who, in the 1940s, saw living in poverty as being the true way of being Irish.
In The Poor Mouth, published in 1941, he writes lines that would have slipped easily into the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch some thirty years later.
He possessed the very best poverty, hunger and distress also. He was generous and open-handed and he never possessed the smallest object which he did not share with the neighbours; nevertheless, I can never remember him during my time possessing the least thing, even the quantity of little potatoes needful to keep body and soul joined together. In Corkadoragha, where every human being was sunk in poverty, we always regarded him as a recipient of alms and compassion. The gentlemen from Dublin who came in motors to inspect the paupers praised him for his Gaelic poverty and stated that they never saw anyone who appeared so truly Gaelic. One of the gentlemen broke a little bottle of water which Sitric had, because, said he, it spoiled the effect. There was no one in Ireland comparable to O’Sanassa in the excellence of his poverty; the amount of famine which was delineated in his person. He had neither pig nor cup nor any household goods. In the depths of winter I often saw him on the hillside fighting and competing with a stray dog, both contending for a narrow hard bone and the same snorting and angry barking issuing from them both. He had no cabin either, nor any acquaintance with shelter or kitchen heat. He had excavated a hole with his two hands in the middle of the countryside and over its mouth he had placed old sacks and branches of trees as well as any useful object that might provide shelter against the water which came down on the countryside every night.
Like most satire, O’Brien’s work found a wide readership because it contained within it a grain of truth. Writing that sharply captures the excess of gloom in the present times will stand in the tradition of Flann O’Brien.