Justin Evans's Reviews > At Swim-Two-Birds

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien
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Jan 03, 2012

bookshelves: fiction
Read in January, 2012

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 seriously folks, take my mother, really, take her please, and make sure she doesn't have to read this stand up routine masquerading, quite self-consciously, as a novel, or rather a novel about a novel, or, to be quite precise, a record by the narrator about his life while writing a novel about a pub-owner writing a novel about characters stolen from other novels, in which those characters spend all their time telling stories and reciting poems, i.e., kind of talking out very short novels, only all the characters are also 'real,' not fictional, and can affect the life of the pub-owner. Meta-fictional nonsense ensues, self-consciously, and conceptually it's interesting in a two page Borges story kind of way. But it takes over 200 pages.

Now, I'm quite willing to believe that other readers might find all of this hilarious. But not being an aficionado of Irish myth and legend, cowboy novels, blarney, or novels about novels, I found much of it tedious. It's a fabulous linguistic showpiece, and I'm willing to keep it and give it another shot in a few years. But for now I find it unreadable.
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08/18/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Scott (new)

Scott Hey I have a question. Is this book explicit? Moreover, sexually explicit? Thanks


Sosen Good review. I wanted to like it, but found it hard. I still gave it an extra star because it made me laugh out loud at parts. I'll probably read it again before I turn 30.


Matt the teacher who used this book as a centerpiece in class said that when he was in Dublin for uni the first bunch of intellectual snobs he met were all scoffing at people who hadn't read it yet. I did a paper on it in the light of Flann responding to Joycean innovations, which is here (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/97...) if you're interested


message 4: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin Evans Hi Matt, thanks! I'll have a look at that, sounds interesting. Have you read any of his other books? Anything that's, ahem, more approachable?


Matt I think The Third Policeman is just as good, if not better. It's totally weird and nutty and kind of like Borges mixed with Raymond Chandler in an Irish setting (not necessarily Reality, y'unnerstand, but...)

I'm not saying I got it all but that I loved it and I don't feel like I got it because I loved it but that I loved it because I didn't care if I got it or not.


message 6: by Frederic (new) - added it

Frederic Kerr I, too, gave up on it during my first attempt, years ago, but I found much of it so funny that I want to give it another try.


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