James's Reviews > At Swim-Two-Birds

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien
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's review
Oct 01, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: contemporary-fiction, fantasy
Recommended for: Literature Snobs
Read in November, 2006

One of my favorites, At Swim-Two-Birds is a huge achievement in literature and has fallen out of recognition, ironically, because of its confusing story telling but more importantly because it is the other Irish classic released the same year as Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, which dwarfed At Swim-Two-Birds credit for years.

Far more readable than Finnegan's Wake, At Swim-Two-Birds follows a young Dublin college student who only leaves his room to drink with his friends, and who spends the rest of his tim writing a novel about a hideous man who only leaves his room to drink with enemies and who spends the rest of his time writing a novel in which all the characters are stolen from Irish mythology and and literary history and which is written so horrendously that the characters are forced to remove themselves from the pages of the book and torture and mutilate their author for his desecration of culturally sacred archetypes.

So the cowboys get mad and rewrite the story, Finn MacCool gets depressed, the King has a jumping contest with a witch across the world to reclaim the Irish worth, the Good Fairie cheats everyone, and the Pooka MacPhellimy (a Celtic demon that tortures people who disrespect the dead and the dead's art) prepares a regime or horrific torture for their writer and recreator that spans a good chunk of the book and would make anyone cringe. Of course, supposedly none of this is happening because it is in the mind of a dirty old man/hack writer who is in the mind of a lonely drunk college student, a self-proclaimed writing savant...

Starts on Chapter 1 with no further chapters, has no quotation marks, is mapped out by biographical references, heroic poetry, current events, and blatant fantasy (not to mention a few home town cowboys and western archetypes), At Swim-Two-Birds is probably not for everyone. However, it is an extremely funny and extremely clever book with more to say about it then could ever be said within its own pages.

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