The Personals: Short but sweet stories behind the small ads

Book review: Brian O’Connell’s tantilising snippets reveal how many of us lead our lives

Classified information. All sorts of things are revealed while browsing the small ads: famous pigs, medals, lost loves, unwanted graves, Nazi helmets, wedding dresses...

Classified information. All sorts of things are revealed while browsing the small ads: famous pigs, medals, lost loves, unwanted graves, Nazi helmets, wedding dresses...

In keeping with both the intent and format of small ads, Brian O’Connell gets straight to the point in his introduction, quickly debunking the origin story of the most famous classified of them all: Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story, For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn. Generally believed to have been written when Hemingway and his drinking pals were sitting around the Algonquin Hotel in New York tossing bon mots around in the way some of us chuck peanuts at our mouths, apparently at best the line is Hemingway’s adaptation of an earlier “Baby Carriage for Sale: Never Used” ad, and at worst, was attributed to him by a literary agent years after his death.

In The Personals, O’Connell collates a range of small ads over the last number of years, primarily from print media (nice work, Evening Echo) and online (this is a man who spends a lot of time on DoneDeal). Whenever possible he interviewed the advertiser in person, so expect many, many cups of tea, and hours sitting in cars chatting to strangers. Divided into nine sections: Love and Loss; Equipped For Life; Pets’ Corner; Articles of War; Sentimental Value; Collectors; Lost Causes; This Mortal Coil; and Signs of the Times, he encounters, as one would expect, all sorts: famous pigs, medals, lost loves, unwanted graves… even an enterprising UCC pharmacy student who makes up to €800 a year selling her old Leaving Cert study notes for €20 a subject.

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