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At Swim-two-birds [Hardcover]

Flann O'Brien
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 Aug 1976

Flann O'Brien's innovative metafictional work, whose unruly characters strike out their own paths in life to the frustration of their author, At Swim-Two-Birds is a brilliant impressionistic jumble of ideas, mythology and nonsense published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Flann O'Brien's first novel tells the story of a young, indolent undergraduate, who lives with his curmudgeonly uncle in Dubin and spends far too much time drinking with his friends. When not drunk or in bed he likes to invent wild stories peoples with hilarious and unlikely characters - but somehow his creations won't do what he wants them to. A dazzling work of farce, satire, folklore and absurdity that gives full rein to its author's dancing intellect and Celtic wit, At Swim-Two-Birds is both a brilliant comic send-up of Irish literature and culture, and a portrayal of Dublin to compare with Joyce's Ulysses.

Brian Ó Nualláin, (1911-1966), better known by his pseudonym Flann O'Brien, was born in Strabane, County Tyrone, and studied at University College Dublin before joining the Irish Civil Service.

Ifyou enjoyed At Swim-Two-Birds, you might like Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'This is just the book to give your sister if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl'

Dylan Thomas

'That's a real writer, with the true comic spirit'

James Joyce, author of Ulysses

'A brilliant, beer-soaked miniature masterpiece'

Time

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grafton; New edition edition (23 Aug 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0246108908
  • ISBN-13: 978-0246108906
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.8 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,329,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good 10 Feb 2013
By David
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bough this by accident, whilst trying to get At swim two boys. I don't regret my mistake however, as it is a good book. It took me a little while to get into it, and I had to reread the first 50 pages, but well worth it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a funny, brilliant book so I have to give it 5 stars; I can't add any more to what has already been said about its greatness. I was looking forward to re-reading it after twenty years but found the Kindle edition riddled with typos and missing full stops. It's obvious that no serious effort was made to proofread the transfer from print to digital, (rather counter-intuitive of the publisher wishing to promote the book as a 'classic'). This poorly edited text does disservice to the reputation of such a scrupulous writer.

I'm appalled at the cynicism of charging one pound more than the paperback for this shoddy Kindle version.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the greatest comic novel ever 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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Was this review helpful to you?
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
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.
Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
what on nearth was that about
Published 5 days ago by Mrs k
3.0 out of 5 stars An unusual satire
I found it interesting but rather dated. In away I felt that I would have had to have been brought up on a "diet" of Irish literature to enjoy the satire fully. Read more
Published 8 months ago by maverick
1.0 out of 5 stars What is this all about?
I only managed a few pages of this book. Could not work out what was supposed to be happening. Life is too short to waste on such rubbish.
Published 8 months ago by Sheila
3.0 out of 5 stars Muddle muddle toil and trouble
Example of two separate reviewers - the first: reviewer extraordinaire, member of the literary class, sat at home meditating the nature of reviews, text to define the nature of... Read more
Published 11 months ago by H. Tee
4.0 out of 5 stars It is genuinely hilarious in many parts, and thoroughly enjoyable
This is a book of metafiction; it is a story within a story, within story, within another story. The original author writes a story about a character, who writes a story about... Read more
Published on 28 Feb 2012 by JP
3.0 out of 5 stars Reviewing the Kindle version rather than the book
The book itself is great. It's funny, witty, fast paced and I'm learning a lot about Irish culture. Read more
Published on 18 Feb 2012 by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars definitely a marmite experience
This was my first try at reading a Flann O'Brien book and even though i was ready too persevere if needed i found it just too hard work. Read more
Published on 29 Oct 2011 by Mr. P. Hughes
3.0 out of 5 stars At Swim-two-birds
You guys are much too quick off the mark pressing me for a review. I haven't begun to read it yet!
Published on 23 Sep 2011 by FairyPenguin
5.0 out of 5 stars So mad we can get drunk on it
This novel is a crossroads between Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and a few others who deal with absurdity or the madness of the stream of consciousness of any sane... Read more
Published on 22 Jun 2011 by Jacques COULARDEAU
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a lot of things. A masterpiece being one of them
For the first time I finished a book and felt compelled to read it again immediately. I knew that I hadn't taken in all that this amazing, frustrating, annoying book had to offer. Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2011 by haunted
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