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At Swim-Two-Birds (Irish Literature) Paperback – 25 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 1st Dalkey Archive e edition (25 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156478181X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564781819
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.2 x 2.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 641,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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At Swim-Two-Birds has remained in my mind ever since it first appeared as one of the best books of our century. A book in a thousand . . . in the line of Ulysses and Tristram Shandy. --Graham Greene

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 54 reviews
54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
"Where will you find, these days, as joyous a throat?" 5 Aug. 2003
By Mary Whipple - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
Totally unique, O'Brien's creation defies the conventions, both of its day and of the present, and even the most jaded reader will be astonished at the unexpected twists the narrative takes. Steeped in the traditions of the Irish story-teller, O'Brien keeps those traditions alive by creating multiple narrators to tell multiple stories simultaneously, while also skewering the very traditions of which he--and they--are a part. Mary Whipple
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
A book of a century 26 Sept. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Is Swift's A Tale of a Tub a great novel? Is Carlysle's Sartor Resartus a great novel? Is Tristram Shandy a great novel? Each of these works takes as its basis another form, whether the controversialist pamphlet, the philosophical treatise, or the biography, and comes out the other side with a new type of work, as well as a new work. These books occupy an originary and terminal position: they are the first and the last of their kind. For readers, these works are stones -- either the stones that become the foundations for understanding or the stones that drag them down. At Swim-Two-Birds takes as its foil the popular novel and the Irish renaissance myth discovery and the personal narrative. Why should a novel have only one beginning, O'Brien (aka Brian O'Nolan, aka Brian Nolan -- a man who got into university with a forged interview with John Joyce) asks? Why one ending? If, as some reviewers have suggested, you try to find the "structure," you're missing the point. Trying to mash this book into a novel's mold is misguided, and O'Brien will eventually make that clear. In fact, it is the story of a college student (fictional), who is writing a novel about a man (fictional) who is writing an Irish western (which cannot be). Additionally, the student's translation homework -- tales from the Dun Cow Book -- emerge in a full Lady Gregory parody and begin to interact with the other fictions, and the characters of the Irish Western themselves begin to resent their lots in life. The book plays games on so many levels that reading it the way one reads a novel is useless. This is not about information and straight lines, but about play -- sometimes rough and tumble and sometimes gentle. All of the narrators lie, by the way, and there is always one more frame of fiction beyond the one in action at the moment. Do not buy this book if you're intolerant of play. Do not buy this book if you look at books for "what happens." If, however, you're one of those who enjoys, instead of resents, reading milestones like Sartor Resartus or think that Italo Calvino is extremely sophisticated, this book (not novel) will be the greatest delight the 20th century can offer you.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
A good book, but not his best 2 Dec. 1999
By "lexo-2" - Published on
Format: Paperback
At Swim-Two-Birds is the first great cult book of the century. Well, maybe the second, after Ulysses. Or possibly the fifth, after Kafka's novels. Oh, never mind. The author, Brian O'Nolan (to give him his real name) wrote it in a fairly desultory manner, handing out bits to his friends and asking them what they thought; he would often change it on their suggestion, not always for the better (as comparisons with early drafts show). It gives the impression of being intricately structured without actually being so, as I found when I adapted it for the stage. In fact, it's structurally a mess, with a hastily tacked-on sentimental ending that was written after O'Nolan's father's unexpected death - the book is always threatening to get really dark, and then fudges it in the wind-up.. The humour is side-splitting the first time round, but it gives diminishing returns (believe me). Far better is his second novel in English, The Third Policeman, written without AS2B's pretensions to modernity and avant-gardism, and, paradoxically, much more genuinely avant-garde.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Buckle Your Seatbelt 8 Aug. 2005
By C. Ebeling - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wanted: A reader for Flann O'Brien's AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS.
1) Requisites: Forgiveness of the not-very-linear, willingness to suspend disbelief and attachment to conventions, flexibility to take hairpin turns and seeming leaps of logic without a moment's notice, and tolerance of sloth, drink and the occasional effluvia.
2) Experience and education: familiarity with James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Irish literary culture of the early 20th century helpful. Competitive emphasis awarded applicants with a working definition of "metafiction."
3) Job description: Sort out nested narratives of authors and their characters; identify author's concepts regarding the creative process; laugh at author's lampoons, ironies and jokes; develop a high appreciation of author's conceptuality and use of voice; locate surprising floes of prose through which echo all kinds of intelligence; don't worry about getting absolutely every reference; appreciate William Gass's critical introduction to this edition, which adds to the fun and vision, and spoils nothing.
4) Compensation and benefits: Never boring, earns reader the metafictional and modern Irish literature badge of experience without much bloodletting.
5) Work location: Ideally read in proximity to others with whom insights and jokes can be shared but post-college isolation doable; bed not recommended unless weird dreams desired; does not go overly well with sand, gooey sunscreen and the sounds of the top 40 blasting from the radio three beach blankets away. The local pub would quite suit the content.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I was shocked by this book. 20 May 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have read few books which have delighted me as much as At Swim-Two-Birds..I will not do the book a disservice by attempting to summarize the plot. This must be one of the most original debut novels ever written; its form is like that of nothing else I've read, and is used with great success for the purpose of, among other things, parody. The facility the author displays with language is astonishing and unsurpassed; he has a perfect `ear' for the language, and combines it with brilliant comic invention, which pervades the structure and scaffolding of the book down to the prose. In my opinion, this is definitely his masterpiece in English; and certainly one of the greatest novels in the language.
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