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At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)

by Flann O'Brien

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» See also 126 mentions

English (37)  Swedish (1)  All (38)
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
While I can appreciate why others might enjoy Flann O'Brien's "At Swim-Two-Birds," reading it was akin to torture to me. I'm not entirely certain I would have understood what was going on without reading the back of the book before starting the novel.

It's the story of a drunk Irish guy who is writing a novel about an author and all of the author's characters start interacting with each other. It's supposed to be funny, but it's definitely not the kind of humor I find funny.

I found this book to be confusing and silly. I can appreciate what O'Brien was trying to do. But what it really boils down to, is this book was just not my cup of tea and so I found it a completely unenjoyable read. ( )
  amerynth | Feb 17, 2016 |
Quite hilarious, unique style, an unexpected lovely ending ( )
  MetropolitanBlues | Nov 24, 2015 |
Before this book there was nothing like it. After this book nothing like it could be done again, not as well and not the same way. This book took narrative, plot, character, theme, story, poetry and held them up and subjected them to a long and pitiless examination, then threw them down and subjected them to degradations and tortures not dissimilar to those inflicted on the author, Trellis, holding back from destruction only at the end in a moment of conscience and mercy. O'Brien pierces the drunken pretensions and tedious intellectual self-aggrandisement of the middle-class Dublin drunk but cannot in the end deny his affection for it. A brilliant, daring, anarchic novel of wit and intelligence and linguistic dexterity. There is nothing else out there like it at all all. You might even say it's yer only man. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
This might have been a 4* book for me if I had been more familiar with Irish legends and culture. After a bit of a rocky start, I started enjoying this. People who like or admire James Joyce will probably like this even more than I did -- I am not a fan of Joyce's style of writing in "Ulysses" which O'Brien parodies here. ( )
  leslie.98 | Sep 22, 2015 |
But which of us can hope to probe with questioning finger the dim thoughts that flit in a fool's head.I will admit, I liked The Third Policeman better. I will also admit to holding this as the better book, one with recognizable traces of TTP amidst so much more. There, alongside the author's singular wit and superb hand at mixing the pragmatic with the absurd until neither can tell which is the other, is performance, is parody, is a supreme consideration of reality's dance with fiction both foolish and all too wise. The book is a train with a sober first stop and a mad tomfoolery increase in speed with every page and nested trope, but the ending is well worth the grim hanging on for dear life.

I mentioned that I did not like this as much as my first reading of Flann O'Brien as conducted through the equally as peculiar dash of The Third Policeman. That right there is mostly bias, as in TTP there was a great deal of engineering style slap dash, physical laws and computational calculations extended to an absurdity in reality and a recognizable form in the classroom. There's a hint of that in At Swim-Two-Birds, a heavy dose of it near the end bringing some satisfaction to my Bioengineering bred sensibilities, but unfortunately for me O'Brien was far more focused this time on classical mind, specifically of the Irish. I caught a reference here and there, but the large tracts of Irish mythology escaped my enthusiasm in terms of anything more complex than story and poetical sensibilities.

However, that component was far from the majority of the work, and while being familiar with the original material augments enjoyment of the parody, it is not always necessary. Besides, there was so much else going on outside of the Finn Mac Cool and his tall tale rhasodizing, so many odd tricks and twists with minimal punctuation that I was quickly distracted from my poor knowledge of Irish lore. Bamboozling at points, tedious for longer than I'd like, but always, always, a lure to the next and the next and the next.

Lovers of meta, have your meta and eat it too, but also compliment your meta, become engaged with your meta, elope with your meta to newfound states of the detail and the devil so long as you mind your meta-ed manners. We may be seventy-four years on in time and a few in the know-how may moan and groan at the nouveau metas and their ironic urges, their self-conscious-consciousing to an all too often boring degree of banal nihility, but here it is still fresh, here it still has heart. A boisterous and boozy and far too long abed heart, to be sure, but here there is a heart bulleting its way to the soul of the fiction of the time, the odes and cowboys and morality gimmicks and all the poor charactered creations succored away from their easy nonexistence and spit out onto a stage of the so called author's making.

Parts of it light and pounds of it weird and buckets of it deathly serious, but when in doubt, be sure to let yourself laugh. Each and every time will land you a little farther along, and in no time you'll have finished this highly lauded and extremely odd piece of work. Then, I can assure you, you'll have an awful lot to think about in terms of cast and creator and everything in between, and is that not all we can ask for? ( )
  Korrick | Feb 26, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
At Swim-Two-Birds has such a strong claim to be one of the founding texts of literary postmodernism. All the markers of that baggy but indispensable cultural category—the deconstruction of narrative, the replacement of nature by culture, an ahistoric sensibility in which tropes and genres from different eras can be mixed and matched promiscuously, the prominence of pastiche, the notion of language itself as the real author of the work—are openly declared in At Swim.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Flann O'Brienprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bushman, Todd MichaelCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gass, William H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pokorný, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes' chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.
I'm thirsty, he said. I have sevenpence. Therefore I buy a pint.
The conclusion of your syllogism, I said lightly, is fallacious, being based on licensed premises.
Licensed premises is right, he replied, spitting heavily. I saw that my witticism was unperceived and quietly replaced it in the treasury of my mind.
The passage, however, served to provoke a number of discussions with my friends and acquaintances on the subject of aestho-psycho-eugenics and the general chaos which would result if all authors were disposed to seduce their female characters and bring into being, as a result, offspring of the quasi-illusory type. It was asked why Trellis did not require the expectant mother to make a violent end of herself and the trouble she was causing by the means of drinking a bottle of disinfectant fluid usually to be found in bathrooms. The answer I gave was that the author was paying less and less attention to his literary work and was spending entire days and nights in the unremitting practice of his sleep. This explanation, I am glad to say, gave instant satisfaction and was represented as ingenious by at least one of the inquirers concerned.
When money's tight and is hard to get,
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt--
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 156478181X, Paperback)

In a 1938 letter to a literary agent, Flann O'Brien described his first novel as "a very queer affair, unbearably queer perhaps." The book in question was At Swim-Two-Birds--and if we take queer to mean diabolically eccentric, then truer words were never spoken. The author, whose real name was Brian O'Nolan, had successfully stirred Gaelic legend, pulp fiction, and grimy Dublin realism into a hilarious cocktail. His mastery of modernist collage would have been an ample accomplishment itself. But O'Brien was also blessed with the writer's equivalent of perfect pitch, and in At Swim-Two-Birds he squeezes the maximum beauty and banality out of the English language. All he lacks is a tragic register, but he makes up for this deficit with a sense of comedy so acute that even James Joyce couldn't resist blurbing his fellow Dubliner's creation: "A really funny book."

O'Brien labored mightily to make At Swim-Two-Birds summary-proof. But here, anyway, are the bare bones: the narrator, a university student, is writing a novel, which keeps morphing from mock-heroics to middlebrow naturalism. Meanwhile, one of his characters, Dermot Trellis, is himself writing a Western--an Irish Western--whose cowpunching protagonists will eventually throw off their fictional shackles and attempt to murder their creator. (Talk about the death of the author!) There's enough structural shenanigans here to keep an entire industry of critics afloat. Still, what matters most is the pungency of O'Brien's prose. His dialogue is agreeably grungy, his parodies delicious, and the narrator speaks in the sort of Jesuitical dialect that we associate with Samuel Beckett:

That same afternoon I was sitting on a stool in an intoxicated condition in Grogan's licensed premises. Adjacent stools bore the forms of Brinsley and Kelly, my two true friends. The three of us were occupied in putting glasses of stout into the interior of our bodies and expressing by fine disputation the resulting sense of physical and mental well-being. In my thigh pocket I had eleven and eightpence in a weighty pendulum of mixed coins.
Snippets, alas, do little justice to At Swim-Two-Birds, which relies heavily on cumulative chaos for its effect. Graham Greene, an early fan, compared its comic charge to "the kind of glee one experiences when people smash china on the stage." A half century after its initial appearance, O'Brien's masterpiece remains a gleeful read--a marvelous, inventive, and (last but not least) really funny book. --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:06 -0400)

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