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At Swim-two-Birds Unknown Binding – 1962

31 customer reviews

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Unknown Binding, 1962
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 208 pages
  • Publisher: New English Library (1962)
  • ASIN: B0000CLKEC
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,948,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

At Swim-Two-Birdsis both a comedy and a fantasy of such staggering originality that itbaffles description and very nearly beggars our sense of delight. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 5 Nov. 2003
Format: Paperback
Published in 1939, the same year that James Joyce published Finnegan's Wake, this novel was lauded in its day by Joyce himself, Samuel Beckett, and Graham Greene. A wild concoction involving a completely disjointed narrative, multiple points of view, farce, satire, and parody, this "novel" offers any student of Irish literature unlimited subject matter--and equally unlimited laughs. In this unique experiment with point of view, author Brian O'Nolan has used a pseudonym, Flann O'Brien, to tell the story of the novelist/student N, who tells his own story at the same time that he is writing a book about an invented novelist (Trellis), who is himself developing another story, while Tracy, still another author, tells a cowboy story and appears in the previous narratives.
Believing that characters should be born fully adult, one of the writers tries to keep them all together--in this case, at the Red Swan Hotel--so that he can keep track of them and keep them sober while he plans the narrative and writes and rewrites the beginning and ending of the novel. But even when the primary writer stops writing to go out with his friends, the characters of the other (invented) fictional writers continue to live on in the narrative and comment on writing. Before long, the reader is treated to essays on the nature of books vs. plays, polemics about the evils of drink, parodies of folk tales and ballads, a breathless wild west tale starring an Irish cowboy, the legends of Ireland, catalogues of sins, tales of magic and the supernatural, almanacs of folk wisdom and the cures for physical ills, and even the account of a trial--and that's just for starters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Sept. 2005
Format: Unknown Binding
Published in 1939, the same year that James Joyce published Finnegan's Wake, this novel was lauded in its day by Joyce himself, Samuel Beckett, and Graham Greene. A wild concoction involving a completely disjointed narrative, multiple points of view, farce, satire, and parody, this "novel" offers any student of Irish literature unlimited subject matter--and equally unlimited laughs. In this unique experiment with point of view, author Brian O'Nolan has used a pseudonym, Flann O'Brien, to tell the story of the novelist/student N, who tells his own story at the same time that he is writing a book about an invented novelist (Trellis), who is himself developing another story, while Tracy, still another author, tells a cowboy story and appears in the previous narratives.
Believing that characters should be born fully adult, one of the writers tries to keep them all together--in this case, at the Red Swan Hotel--so that he can keep track of them and keep them sober while he plans the narrative and writes and rewrites the beginning and ending of the novel. But even when the primary writer stops writing to go out with his friends, the characters of the other (invented) fictional writers continue to live on in the narrative and comment on writing. Before long, the reader is treated to essays on the nature of books vs. plays, polemics about the evils of drink, parodies of folk tales and ballads, a breathless wild west tale starring an Irish cowboy, the legends of Ireland, catalogues of sins, tales of magic and the supernatural, almanacs of folk wisdom and the cures for physical ills, and even the account of a trial--and that's just for starters.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Guardian of the Scales on 16 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
At Swim-Two-Birds is one of the great comic novels. O'Brien's language is flawless, his imagination strange and vivid and his dialogue both convincing and hilarious. O'Brien's individual style is clear from the first sentence of the book: "Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensory perception and retreated into the privacy of my mind, my face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression."
The first time I read At Swim I knew from this first sentence that this was a book for me. O'Brien is exact in his choice of words and there is a deliberately absurd formality to his style which has often been copied, but he is the one true master of the style.

One of the greatest sources of humour in the novel is the dialogue between the narrator, a rather indolent university student, and the uncle with whom he lodges. The uncle's character is a brilliantly-observed satire on the Catholic middle-class in Ireland, pious and ignorant, close-minded and hectoring, whose colloquial speech-patterns are drawn from reality, still recognisable 70 years after the book's original publication. The narrator is taciturn and reserved, an intellectual character, fond of puns, porter, betting and quiet contemplation(" a contemplative life has always been suitable to my disposition" he says, in defense of his habit of spending entire days in bed rather than attending classes). Thus, the scene is set for constant conflict between these two characters.

Meanwhile, the narrator is writing a novel. The main character of this novel, Trellis, is also writing a novel. Generous excerpts from both the narrator's novel and Trellis's novel are included. Later, the characters from Trellis's novel come to life and seek revenge on their creator.
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