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At Swim-Two-Birds

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3.91  ·  Rating details ·  10,673 ratings  ·  766 reviews
A wildly comic send-up of Irish literature and culture, At Swim-Two-Birds is the story of a young, lazy, and frequently drunk Irish college student who lives with his curmudgeonly uncle in Dublin. When not in bed (where he seems to spend most of his time) or reading he is composing a mischief-filled novel about Dermot Trellis, a second-rate author whose characters ultimate ...more
Paperback, 239 pages
Published August 17th 1998 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1939)
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Rathbaner It's a book about a fella writing a book about a fella writing a book.

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3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  10,673 ratings  ·  766 reviews


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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 took a break for a coffee after writing a long paragraph bas
...more
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
Geoff
Jul 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: infinite-books
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
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Oct 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
"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
Dec 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
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
Paul Bryant
Nov 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
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
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
David
Jul 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Spiros
Oct 02, 2007 added it
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
K.D. Absolutely
Jun 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
·Karen·
...it was explained that a satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity. It was undemocratic to compel characters to be uniformly good or bad or poor or rich. Each should be allowed a private life, self determination and a decent standard of living. This would make for self-respect, contentment and better service. It would be incorrect to say that it would lead to chaos. Characters should be interchangeable as between one ...more
Cody
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: immortal
Good news! My “No Dogs, No Irish” sign has officially been removed from above the front door. My Irish wife will be ecstatic!

You know what I’m going to do for you good kids? I’m going to explain, in intricate and hyper-articulate fashion, why At Swim-Two-Birds is a perfect novel. I’m going to do this in such a manner that even Flann O’Brien would be jealous. I am going to deconstruct the entire novel and build it up again, expanding upon the work where I see fit. Then, for my second act, I’m goi
...more
Mattia Ravasi
For people who read Ulysses and thought, "this is good and all, but is it Irish enough?"

Maybe not as difficult as Joyce's masterpiece, but every bit as crazy.
Justin Evans
Jan 03, 2012 added it
Shelves: fiction
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
Libby
May 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jason
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
Honey-words of the meta variety before the term metafiction was derived.

An author ahead of his time; a work of intelligence, fun, and sharpness. A one-chapter book with multiple beginnings, multiple dimensions, and a quick organic flow. This book is funny, it's sardonic, it's philosophical, but it's not too high on itself. This book has something for the professor and a regular old boyo. The style is funky and loose, weaving in and out of the different layers of the story at a whim, without bre
...more
Petra
Sep 10, 2015 rated it liked it
I don't know how to adequately review this book. It's beyond strange.
Basically the story of a student who would rather sleep and drink than go to class (who wouldn't, right?) who writes a story about a writer who is writing a story. The characters of the fictional writer turn against him and start to live their lives on their own.
Sounds like a good premise, right? It is. There are so many twists and turns. Yet it's told in such a way that it's truly hard to follow. I recognized good writing, so
...more
James
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comedy, fiction, classics
Flann O’Brien take the English language on a careening pub crawl. Hilarity ensues.
Miriam
Aug 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Miriam by: Marc
Shelves: fantasy, mythology, poetry
A story within a novel-in-progress within a frame narrative compounded with an interlocking series of jests.
Juan
Oct 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"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
Bruce
Jun 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Nick
Sep 24, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
David Lentz
Jun 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Hadrian
Jul 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ireland, fiction
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.
Stef Smulders
Too difficult for a non native speaker. Seems fun though.
Northpapers
Jan 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bettie☯
Jun 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Gift from Hayes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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519 followers
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
“I saw that my witticism was unperceived and quietly replaced it in the treasury of my mind.” 101 likes
“A wise old owl once lived in a wood, the more he heard the less he said, the less he said the more he heard, let's emulate that wise old bird.” 44 likes
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