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At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)

by Flann O'Brien

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,556433,508 (3.95)134
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» See also 134 mentions

English (41)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All languages (43)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
How to rate a book that I can see is a work of genius but which I found incredibly difficult? The use of words is breathtaking and some passages are hilarious, but without having read a synopsis beforehand I really would have had no idea what was going on. I'd say this is something you must read but don't necessarily enjoy, though it's worth persevering with. ( )
  LizARees | Dec 6, 2018 |
If I knew more about Irish literature, I would probably find this book hilarious. Since I don't, I can only say that it's very "meta" (self-referential) and very literary. ( )
  amandrake | Nov 4, 2018 |
What a strange book. It snuck up on me, but I liked it a lot in the end. The beginning was completely baffling, but as I kept going, I found myself flipping back to prior passages, and then the pieces started coming together. I laughed a lot.
  thishannah | Jul 17, 2018 |
[b:At Swim-Two-Birds|97333|At Swim-Two-Birds|Flann O'Brien|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171375312s/97333.jpg|983387] by [a:Flann O'Brien|15248|Flann O'Brien|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1229533828p2/15248.jpg] was a book that I had no real what to expect of. I went into it with very limited information (the likes of which was primarily several interviews on the fact it was being turned into a film) and no real expectations. Due to this, I can say that I was wholly unexpected for what I got.. in truth, however, even with what information the introduction gave - I was still shocked by what I got. There is no real preparing for the likes of [b:At Swim-Two-Birds|97333|At Swim-Two-Birds|Flann O'Brien|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171375312s/97333.jpg|983387].

I could say that the book contains around seven different levels of narration, each with its own distinct writing style, and I would be telling the truth... I could say that it involves an author's creation coming alive and usurping his story, and I would be telling the truth - but neither which is really what [b:At Swim-Two-Birds|97333|At Swim-Two-Birds|Flann O'Brien|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171375312s/97333.jpg|983387] is about. I would compare it to [a:James Joyce|5144|James Joyce|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1183237775p2/5144.jpg] in terms of word usage, levels of narration, and other forms of style (something that [a:Flann O'Brien|15248|Flann O'Brien|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1229533828p2/15248.jpg] apparently hated) and I wouldn't necessarily be lying.. but I would be doing the book, and author, a bit of a disservice. The similarity, while there and requiring comment, devalues the individuality of each of the authors and the rather robust self that they each bring to their works.

[b:At Swim-Two-Birds|97333|At Swim-Two-Birds|Flann O'Brien|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171375312s/97333.jpg|983387] is a book that needs to be read as much as [a:Flann O'Brien|15248|Flann O'Brien|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1229533828p2/15248.jpg] is an author that needs to be read - the two are inseparable and greatly defy definition. If the film is made, and I do believe that it will be, it shall be one well worth seeing. Read it, and laugh at its irreverence, appreciate its style, and wonder at the author that can juggle as much as Flann managed without even blinking an eye.

My hat is off to this.. not book as much as experience. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (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
O'Brien, FlannAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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