At Swim Two Birds by Flann O'Brien
DUBLIN ONE CITY ONE BOOK
About the author
Flann O'Brien (real name Brian O’Nolan) was born in 1911 in Co. Tyrone. He graduated from UCD and joined the Civil Service. In addition to At Swim-Two-Birds he wrote The Dalkey Archive, The Third Policeman, The Hard Life and The poor Mouth - as well as the Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times under the pseudonym, Myles Na Gopaleen. He died on April 1st, 1966.
About the book
First published in 1939, the same year as Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, At Swim-Two-Birds is a modern masterpiece mixing Irish history and Gaelic legend with a profound knowledge of Dublin’s streets, bars and urban grime - creating a hilarious and irreverent cocktail. It pokes fun at the work of O’Brien’s Irish near-contemporaries, among them, WB Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.
’One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with" Flann O'Brien
The bare bones of the plot of At Swim-Two-Birds, are that the narrator is a young, lazy, and often drunk young man who lives with his grumpy uncle in Dublin. He is writing a novel about pub landlord and would-be author Dermot Trellis, whose characters are rebelling against him, culminating in their attempt to murder him because of his bad writing. The characters chosen by Trellis come from a wide variety of genres: American Westerns (Slug and Shorty), Gaelic Legend (Finn MacCool, Sweeney Peregrine), Dante (the Devil), Fairytale (the Good Fairy) and others – all of whom are transported to Dublin. Mixed in with this is the story of the narrator’s term at school and involvement in the literary life of Dublin in the 1930’s.
At Swim-Two-Birds is utterly hilarious. It’s a novel of chaos, a wild and comic send up of Irish literature and culture which should be enjoyed for its exuberance and irreverence towards all sacred cows. It’s set in Dublin, and takes the reader around the backstreets as well as the landmarks, giving a completely alternative spin on the city. It’s as good a map of Dublin as Joyce’s Ulysses, as good a celebration of Dublin spirit as Kavanagh’s canal-bank poems, and a glowing testament to the unassailable character of the city.
" That's a real writer, with the true comic spirit. A really funny book" James Joyce
"the kind of glee one experiences when people smash china on the stage." Graham Greene
"At Swim-Two-Birds is both a comedy and a fantasy of such staggering originality that it baffles description and very nearly beggars our sense of delight." Chicago Tribune