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At Swim-Two-Birds

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  7,190 ratings  ·  485 reviews
The undergraduate narrator of this novel lives with his uncle in Dublin, drinks too much and invents stories peopled with hilarious and unlikely characters, one of whom creates a means by which women can give birth to full-grown people.
Paperback, 217 pages
Published September 1st 2000 by Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (first published 1939)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Riku Sayuj

Did not think that anything more zany than the 'Third Policeman' was possible (people who like 'Lost' should check the book out, by the way)... On my first read of this book (in 2009) I was too entranced with the main plot device of the characters plotting against the author, etc and probably overlooked the insane ironies, the scathing parodies and the Joycean aspects.

Consider: Flann O’Brien offers the reader three possible openings and even has his narrator remark that a satisfactory novel sho
...more
Fionnuala
I finished this book late last night and when I woke this morning the last scene of a very vivid dream was still imprinted in full colour on my mind. In the dream I had been searching for something, google searching, and a google page filled my vision, a page to which I’d been led by a bizarre mistype: jiethleef...

Oh, drat - so much for that promising beginning - I've lost an entire paragraph based on linking that dream to having finished At Swim Two Birds late last night, and all because I took
...more
Ian Pagan-Gladfly
"Piteous Though Such Fraud Be"

The epigraph in Greek script at the beginning of the novel reads "for all things change, making way for each other".

It comes from the following passage of Euripides’ "Heracles":

Amphitryon:
"Daughter, there may yet be a happy escape
From present troubles for me and you;
My son, your husband, may yet arrive.
So calm yourself, and wipe those tears
From your children's eyes,
And soothe them with soft words,
Inventing a tale to delude them,
Piteous though such fraud be.
Y
...more
knig
Here is how this goes. On an intellectual level, at Swim two Birds is nonpareil. Its like watching an expert surgeon performing keyhole surgery par excellence: not a wrong move, each clinical motion precisely fitted and flowing effortlessly into the next: a symphony of elegantly executed literary manoeuvres which coalesce discrete etudes into a continuo of cohesiveness: no faults. Not a one. Innovative, large, yet humble, sprawling, yet mindful of an epicentre, gargantuan ambition anchored in re ...more
MJ Nicholls
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David
Flann O'Brien is surely Ireland's most neglected writer. Though his talent was on a par with the genius of his contemporaries, Joyce and Beckett, he has never come close to achieving the same degree of recognition. There are several possible explanations for this. The simplest is that Joyce and Beckett managed to cut the umbilical cord - though Mother Ireland featured large in their writing, they both managed to make an escape, living the latter part of their lives in exile. This might not seem ...more
Geoff
A Review Composed of Interrogatives and Speculations

What are we to make of At Swim-Two-Birds? Despite the fact of its being one of the laugh-out-loud funniest, most absurdly and grossly comedic, most intelligent novels I’ve ever read, At Swim-Two-Birds is simultaneously profoundly cruel, cruelly profound, unsettling, and causes such a discord with the idea of imaginative reality and authority in fiction that I would say that the overall effect of reading the book is something akin to a blend of
...more
matt
Cannot wait to start this one. Highly recommended, a couple of fun little bookstore investigations, just chomping at the bit. This book is going to be amazing. I can tell already.

***

and it WAS great. I had it on a four star basis throughout most of the reading, due to the metafictional thing leaving me just the slightest bit dry and confused, just can't abide being TOO alienated from the story. But the last 20 pages brought me back and achieved an unexpected tenderness and a lyrical glow (availa
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 04, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to K.D. by: Time 100, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: 1001-core, time-100
At Swim-To-Birds is a 1939 novel by Irish author Brian O’Nolan under the non de plueme Flann O’Brien. At one time, he also used a pen name Myles na Coppaleen (Myles of the Little Horses) taken from the character in Dion Boucicault’s play The Colleen Bawn. When my brother and I learned about this other pseudonym we thought that O’Brien might have some naughty Filipino friends or relatives. Myles could be a name of an Irish person, male or female. Then na Coppaleen is, in Filipino language, a desc ...more
Aubrey
3.5/5
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 bo
...more
Paul Bryant
This is a seriously lovely inch perfect parabola of joy which everyone ought to at least try. Go on! You know you want to. All right, you didn't know you wanted to. But i know you better than that! Would I lie? How long have we known each other now? Well then, have I ever recommended a duff book? Name one. There, you can't. I admit that At Swim Two birds won't be everybody's slice of schwarzwälder kirschtorte. Probably some will stumble away pallid and looking like they've spent a week with a ma ...more
Spiros
Oct 09, 2007 Spiros added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who like this sort of thing
Shelves: freebox, falsestarts
Ok, it's official: I got to page 127, and I GIVE UP.
There were parts at the beginning of this book which I quite enjoyed. Unfortunately, after slogging through the last 80 or so pages of random witterings, I can't remember what they were or why I enjoyed them. A few casual impressions that I was left with:

1. "What do you read, my lord?
Words, words, words."
-HAMLET, Act II, scene 2

2. I am reasonably certain that, had I read this book in high school, I would have eaten it up; I would have rea
...more
Adam Floridia
This is a testament to why I love goodreads: I don't think I ever would have stumbled across this singularly unique gem without it.

The book almost defies review because it defies all literary conventions; however, it does so in such an overt and parodic manner that it never becomes tedious reading. I suppose it's like the ying to Beckett's yang--both completely discount plot, but one is lighthearted and comical while the other is laborious and depressing.

The absurdity of the book is always righ
...more
Libby
May 08, 2009 Libby rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who can handle metafiction and have a fondness for stout
Shelves: comedy, lush
If I was to be stranded on a desert island for the rest of my life and could only take one book with me this would be it. It is so complex and rich that every new reading reveals details previously missed and perspectives not previously considered. The Pooka MacPhellimey and the Good Fairy are just genius.

"Afterwards, near Lad Lañe Pólice Station a small man in black fell in with us and tapping me often about the chest, talked to me earnestly on the subject of Rousseau, a member of the French n
...more
Luís Miguel
Um escritor para escritores, pois foram Borges, Joyce e Greene que o democratizaram. Em "At Swim-Two-Birds" discutimos livros dentro de livros, autores e personagens que se sabotam uns aos outros, pais contra filhos... enfim, porque não dizer que é um livro sobre cerveja e literatura? Duas das coisas para as quais vivo. Concretamente, um jovem estudante irlandês escreve três inícios para um livro. Entretanto, bebe amiúde aquele escuro malte vítreo com os amigos, escapando à tutela conservadora d ...more
Juan
"Shanahan at this point inserted a brown tobacco finger in the texture of the story and in this manner caused a lacuna in the palimpsest"

This is how the narrator describes Shanahan's interruption of the story being written by Orlick Trellis (son of the author/protagonist) of a story in which all of them are characters, at the point where Orlick introduces Shanahan, yet again, as a character of the story he is now writing (yes, that's how convoluted it gets).

There can hardly be a better term than
...more
Justin Evans
I'm glad I can write a review of this without giving it a rating, that's for sure. The last thing I need is to be assaulted by legions of self-consciously intellectual and/or hip readers decrying my inability to 'get it,' because I gave a crappy rating to a probably interesting book. Instead I can write a review which such readers won't bother reading and perhaps save you the effort of picking the book up, or, alternatively, help you discover that this is a book of the type that you enjoy.

But s
...more
Bruce
The unnamed narrator, a dissolute university student badly neglecting his studies, explains to his friends-in-drink, with countless diversions, the novel he is writing about Mr. Delmot Trellis, a slothful and dissolute inhabitant of an inn, who in turn is writing a novel about a character, inter alia, who is born middle-aged. Our primary narrator describes, among other information, his theory of writing novels, including his conviction that characters need not be developed de novo but should be ...more
Jason
Okay, I was supposed to read this mother in grad school, but I was too busy: drinking or playing basketball or eating lunch with Chad or working out or trying to sleep with one of my classmates/students/neighbors or the vaguely French-looking chick at Al's that played rad songs on the jukebox. In any case I didn't read much of it then because, well, it is a difficult book for all-time fuckups to read. Here's the deal, I read it today. All of it. In one day. Why? Because it is fucking hilarious a ...more
David Lentz
Flann O'Brien is a wit, a shaman, a pooka and a conjurer. Call him Finn MacCool from Finnegan's Wake. Is the plot original? 'Tis. Is the story outrageously funny in places? It is very satisfactory. Is the dialogue masterful? Absolutely. Does he rank with Joyce, Beckett and Yeats? Sorry, no. Although he is often compared to them, this Irish literary triumvirate occupy a celestial sphere outside Flann's lesser luminary sphere. Is it close? Not really. I loved the book and William H. Gass in his in ...more
Nick
I didn't finish this book--which is very rare for me--because I just didn't like it that much. I got about halfway through, which I felt like a real achievement considering how slow-going it is. I've read some slow books in my day but usually there's a substitute for a practically plotless novel: humor, stylistic beauty, philosophic depth, etc. Although some think this is a hilarious book, I didn't find even a tenth as entertaining as "The Third Policeman." And even though O'Brien is a terrific ...more
Northpapers
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Orionisisgray
Wow! What a find! We've heard of James Joyce but not this fellow, and I submit to you that there is no good reason for that other than a twist of history. Namely, O'Brien did not leave Ireland, sticking around to slog it out in a cultural vacuum while his contemporaries mucked about England and mainland Europe getting famous and selling tomes.

This book surely changed fiction as we know it; he uses devices that are so fresh they are still fresh today, wonderfully weird and strangely satisfying. T
...more
Val
The influence of James Joyce on Irish writers is not the same as on writers of other nationalities. Many writers have been influenced by his style, but few outside Ireland and the Irish diaspora have been influenced by his humour. This book could only have been written post-Joyce.
It is meta-fiction: stories within stories, characters within stories rewriting the narrative, stories getting mixed up with each other, legends intruding into 'real life'. It is deliberately chaotic, a drunken story-te
...more
Hadrian
This was a lot of fun to read. It's not a novel in the traditional sense, but several stories mashed together, and the characters rebel from the author at one point and so forth and so forth. Cowboy stories, trials, and Irish mythology. It's almost confusing, but very entertaining. I'll be reading more Flann O'Brien soon enough.
Borbality
This one is hard to write about, because it's so silly and strange and probably not for everyone, but I love it. It's like my review has to do the book justice or I will fail in my own opinions, or something.

I'm glad it's finally available on Kindle, because, being a library book, I didn't remember most of it the second time I read it.

I guess the style is sort of similar to "A Confederacy of Dunces," which I am a sucker for. That flowery, overly serious nonsense is already funny to begin with, b
...more
Tempo de Ler
O'Brien - genial O'Brien - escreve em «Uma Caneca de Tinta Irlandesa» um livro sobre um escritor que está a escrever um livro, também este sobre um autor que está a escrever um livro e que mantém as suas personagens cativas, dispondo delas quando e como quer. Resultado? Estas começam a planear a sua vingança…escrevendo um livro…claro.

254 páginas de pura loucura…Consigo imaginar já muitos sobrolhos erguidos perante esta minha sugestão de leitura; tenho plena consciência que «Uma Caneca de Tinta I
...more
Andrea
Dylan Thomas said "This is just the book to give to your sister if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl!" which is funny, because I have been all three of those (though rarely at once), and I couldn't decide which of my brothers to give this to first! It brilliantly parodies Irish literature both high and low. It will indeed remind you of Tristram Shandy and Joyce and I find it their equal, though perhaps I preferred the Third Policeman. But some of the sentences will make any writer swoon (more than ...more
Mike
It’s appropriate that the name on the cover of At Swim-Two-Birds isn’t Brian O’Nolan, the Irish writer born 5 October, 1911, deceased 1 April, 1966. O’Nolan used pennames for nearly everything he wrote, including periodicals in the Irish Times as Myles na gCopaleen and novels as Flann O’Brien. Thus, before you even open the cover of At Swim-Two-Birds, a/Authority is called into question. And man, it only gets zanier.

@S2B is about an unnamed university student in Dublin writing a book about an au
...more
Miriam
Aug 16, 2007 Miriam rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Miriam by: Marc
Shelves: fantasy, poetry, mythology
A story within a novel-in-progress within a frame narrative compounded with an interlocking series of jests.
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All About Books: Week 64 - At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien 10 25 Dec 13, 2014 07:24AM  
The Book's Conclusion 3 40 Oct 05, 2014 05:33PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Secondary author with two roles 3 46 Sep 10, 2012 02:43PM  
Goodreads Librari...: ISBN13: 9780452259133 2 150 Jul 13, 2012 05:33PM  
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15248
Pseudonym of Brian Ó Nualláin, also known as Brian O'Nolan.


His English novels appeared under the name of Flann O’Brien, while his great Irish novel and his newspaper column (which appeared from 1940 to 1966) were signed Myles na gCopaleen or Myles na Gopaleen – the second being a phonetic rendering of the first. One of twelve brothers and sisters, he was born in 1911 in Strabane, County Tyrone, in
...more
More about Flann O'Brien...
The Third Policeman The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life The Dalkey Archive The Best of Myles The Hard Life

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“I saw that my witticism was unperceived and quietly replaced it in the treasury of my mind.” 68 likes
“When a man sleeps, he is steeped and lost in a limp toneless happiness: awake he is restless, tortured by his body and the illusion of existence. Why have men spent the centuries seeking to overcome the awakened body? Put it to sleep, that is a better way. Let it serve only to turn the sleeping soul over, to change the blood-stream and thus make possible a deeper and more refined sleep.” 24 likes
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