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Literature / Puckoon

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Puckoon is a comic novel by Spike Milligan, first published in 1964.

The structure of the novel is loose and episodic, with frequent diversions into the lives of incidental characters — sort of a literary version of Sketch Comedy rather than a traditional narrative. The plot, such as it is, involves the troubles caused to the small Irish town of Puckoon by the Partition, the process in which Ireland was divided into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland). A lapse by the boundary commission results in the new border running straight through the village — and, in some cases, through individual buildings. After an incident in which a funeral is held up because the border guards refuse to let the procession into the graveyard, now on the other side of the border from the church, unless they're shown valid passports for everybody including the deceased, a group of villagers decide that something must be done.

The protagonist, or at least the character with whom the narrative begins and ends, is the hapless Dan Milligan, who is aware of his status as a fictional character and occasionally gets into arguments with the author about how he's being treated.

A film adaptation was released in 2003, directed by Terence Ryan (The Brylcreem Boys). It starred Sean Hughes as Dan Madigan and Richard Attenborough as the narrator. (Spike Milligan was offered a role, but was unable to take part due to failing health; he died shortly after the film was completed.)

This novel contains examples of:

  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Gulio Cesar gets this reaction from a border guard who thinks he's claiming to be Julius Caesar.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Father Rudden laments the lack of Latin education amongst his flock. On one occasion, he recalls, he recited a dirty joke that he had translated into Latin, eliciting a solemn "Amen" from his congregation.
  • The Big Guy: Farmer O'Mara.
  • Coffin Contraband: One of the major plot points involves the smuggling of explosives into Northern Ireland in coffins.
  • Left Hanging: The main plot reaches a denouement, but several characters are left in awkward situations or with unfinished business. Dan Milligan is left hanging literally as well as figuratively — dangling from a tree, in an embarrassing outfit, with his head trapped in a metal pipe — and, as usual, complains to the author: "You can't leave me like this!" The author's response, "Oh, can't I?", is the final sentence of the novel.
  • Medium Awareness: Dan Milligan knows he's a character in a novel, talks back to the narration, and at one point looks down at the bottom of the page to find out what page number he's on.
  • Mood Whiplash: The book is mostly wacky hijinks, but then we find out about Farmer O'Mara's family: his wife cheated on him with several men, then went mad and killed their children.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: The border runs between the church and the graveyard, and the border guards won't let a funeral procession through unless everyone in it has a valid passport including the deceased. This leads to a scene in which three of the villagers take the corpse to a photographer to get passport photos while trying to avoid letting on that he's dead.
  • Rage Against the Author: Dan Milligan isn't shy about pointing out whenever he thinks the author isn't doing a good job. It doesn't do him any good in the end, though, because the author always retains the power to overrule him.
  • Spiritual Successor: To At Swim-Two-Birds.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: In the very first chapter, Dan Milligan has a conversation with the Author in which he complains about the legs the Author has written for him. When he asks the Author whether he wrote his own legs the Author admits that he didn't. Dan complains about the Author getting himself a decent leg-writer and then writing crappy old legs for Dan. The author tries to calm Dan down by claiming that he'll develop Dan's legs with the plot.