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December Books 5) At Swim-Two-Birds

5) At Swim-Two-Birds, by Flann O'Brien

Generally thought of as O'Brien's masterwork, though personally I prefer the more structured lunacy of The Third Policeman. It must be the third time at least that I've read it, but only the first time that I've tried to write down what I think it's about.

There is a lot more sex in it than I remembered, but women are barely visible except as seen by men - there's only one speaking human female character (plus a cow plus perhaps the Good Fairy). Oddly enough the cover of this edition is a picture of a man and a woman by Jack B. Yeats, with the two separated by the spine of the book so that they are apart rather than together as the artist intended.

One can imagine the origins of the book as being a series of fantasies told in the pub, especially the all-male Dublin pub environment of the 1930s. It's about telling stories and the tellers of stories; it's about confronting the epic with the demotic; it's about the supernatural encountering the familiar; it's about a student, a hotel full of characters and Sweeny the wanderer. It's quite hard work to read as well.

I still like The Third Policeman more, but I can see why people get obsessed with At Swim-Two-Birds.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC)
I have both and still have to read both - must do that over christmas
Dec. 12th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)
I love the richness of it, the idea of just packing everything in, all the pastiches and the skits, and leaving it all feeling like a pile of manuscripts with pages spilling out of them, picked up off the corner of a madman's office desk. I think also that it goes down more levels than it comes up, so you end up in a different story but back in "reality": it might do that a few times, I can't remember.

I finished A Scanner Darkly yesterday, as a break from writing (and from grimly munching my way through The Flounder). It's one of the best books I've read in years: who'd have thought Dick was so good at writing noir?
Dec. 12th, 2007 02:03 pm (UTC)
I love this book, too long since I read it
Dec. 13th, 2007 09:23 pm (UTC)
I may have to admit that I will never finish ASTB. While any individual bit of it is very entertaining, the overall narrative thrust is too weak to keep me going.
Dec. 15th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)
Can't agree with you there, Nicholas. I thought T3P started strong but finished weak. AS2B OTOH gets better the longer one sticks with it. It's not a major work of the English literature, but it is an extremely strong minor work of same. Not that T3P is unworth reading; far from it. But AS2B is to my mind so much better.

Mind you, I read The Poor Mouth only years after I'd read either of the above, and have to say it is better than either by miles (NPI). Indeed I was so impressed with it that I have made it my goal to make my knowledge of th' oul Erse good enough to read the original An Béal Bocht. I've been warned it's ferociously difficult, but then, what else have I to do with my 13 free minutes per week?

-- Mrs T.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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