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Click OK to close the Options popup. Refresh your browser page to run scripts and reload content. Click the Internet Zone. If you do not have to customize your Internet security settings, click Default Level. There was a picture of Finn on one side, with details of his heroic exploits on the other. The emphasis there is on Dublin, where he spent his adult life.

It must have been some time after my first reading of the book that I discovered he was born in Strabane, a town in County Tyrone that we drove through every summer on our way to seaside holidays in Donegal. In fact I knew next to nothing about him. This in turn has sparked more fundamental questions: Why do we read? What are we looking for in books? What do we take away from them? Even so, I believe that if At Swim-Two-Birds were deleted from my syllabus of reading, I would be somehow changed and lessened. Whatever first drew me to it, At Swim-Two-Birds rapidly became a favourite book.

His mixing of the mundane and the mythological made for moments of hilarity, and the relaxed fluency of his diction drew me into the intricate absurdities he was constructing. It appealed to me to have the traditional form of a novel repeatedly interrupted with asides and notes that drew attention to what the author was doing, with the reader being stopped in his tracks on a regular basis by italicized subheadings flagging up the names of figures of speech being used, the nature of silences encountered, and the description of characters.

Essentially, At Swim-Two-Birds is a comedy of characters created by authors who are themselves the inventions of other writers. The medieval Irish work Buile Suibhbe tells of how he was cursed and made to wander the country as a bird in punishment for his attack on Saint Ronan.

Some titles carry so little in the waters of their text that the words just wash over us and vanish, leaving no discernible trace. Others are more like boulder-loaded waves, a turmoil of water and sediment pounding on our shores. They feel as if they leave us marked by the storm of their passage. But do we really understand what happens when a book touches us or when it fails to? I guess I wrote them very soon after finishing the book, which is why I put my age at nineteen for that first reading.

But there are also several pages about the structure of the book. And when I could afford to, I systematically replaced my initial paperback editions with hardbacks. Alas, I never found a first edition. The hardback copy of the book I have is only a fourth impression of the Hart-Davis MacGibbon edition. Like the Penguin Modern Classics edition, this Oxford-purchased one has marginal pencil marks scattered through it, evidence of the fact that I must have read the book at least twice before this current rereading. He was consumed by doubts as to his own identity.

With a nod to Furriskey searching for a looking glass, my lectures and subsequent book were entitled In the Hall of Mirrors.

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I still have a folder of notes and jottings and photocopied articles about his writing that I started to put together around that time, and added to intermittently for years. That I never did perhaps reflects a waning of interest, or perhaps it was just a reflection of how the demands of a new job leave little time to pursue such things. It seemed as much an entombment of the original as an elucidation of it, still less a celebration. I found myself impatient with its often slow pace, its longwindedness, its lack of any conventional chapter breaks.

Some of what originally appeared as integral and amusing embellishment now seemed closer to tedious digression.

Some of the humour just seemed juvenile. The complete absence of any credible female perspective, something not noticed in , now grated as an obvious deficiency.

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The intricately worked literary design that had so impressed me when I was nineteen now looked, in parts, lumbering and laboured. Now and then I was, frankly, bored with what seemed little more than silly shenanigans.

At Swim-Two-Birds Book Review

Encouraged by the others, Orlick starts writing a novel about his father in which Trellis is tried by his own creations, found guilty and viciously tortured. Just as Orlick's novel is about to climax with Trellis' death, the college student passes his exams and reconciles with his uncle.

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He completes his story by having Trellis's maid accidentally burn the papers sustaining the existence of Furriskey and his friends, freeing Trellis. The idea of interaction between the author and his characters is not new, and one earlier example is Miguel de Unamuno 's novel Niebla. The book is seething with conspiracy and there have been at least two whispered consultations between all the characters, including two who have not yet been officially created.

He grew up in an Irish-speaking home and although he claimed in later life that he had attended few of his college lectures, he studied the late medieval Irish literary tradition as part of the syllabus and acquired enough Old Irish to be able to compose in the language with reasonable fluency.

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His M. O'Keeffe in the standard edition as "the bell of saints before saints", [11] is rendered by O'Nolan as "the saint-bell of saints with sainty-saints". At Swim-Two-Birds has been classified as a Menippean satire. The typewriter rested on a table constructed by O'Nolan from the offcuts of a modified trellis that had stood in the O'Nolan family's back garden. O'Brien's biographer believes that it was the unusual material that the writing table was made of that inspired the name of the character "Dermot Trellis", [15] although there is no reference to where this information was found.

O'Nolan used various found texts in the novel; a letter from a horseracing tipster was given to him by a college friend, while the painter Cecil Salkeld gave O'Nolan the original "Conspectus of the Arts and Sciences". A friend wrote him a letter which included suggestions about how to end the novel and O'Nolan incorporated the salient part of the letter into the text itself, although he later cut it. The sudden death in of O'Nolan's father Michael O'Nolan may have influenced the episode in which the student narrator regrets his unkind thoughts about his previously despised uncle.

At Swim-Two-Birds was accepted for publication by Longman 's on the recommendation of Graham Greene , who was a reader for them at the time.


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  • I have been thinking over the question of a pen-name and would suggest Flann O'Brien. I think this invention has the advantage that it contains an unusual name and one that is quite ordinary. The book was published on 13 March , but did not sell well: by the outbreak of World War II it had sold scarcely more than copies.

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    In , Longman's London premises were destroyed during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe and almost all the unsold copies were incinerated. The initial reviews for At Swim-Two-Birds were not enthusiastic. However, most of the support for At Swim-Two-Birds came not from newspaper reviewers but from writers.

    Anthony Burgess considered it one of the ninety-nine greatest novels written between and Graham Greene's enthusiastic reader's report was instrumental in getting the book published in the first place:. It is in the line of Tristram Shandy and Ulysses : its amazing spirits do not disguise the seriousness of the attempt to present, simultaneously as it were, all the literary traditions of Ireland. Joyce declared it the work of a "real writer" who had "the true comic spirit" and attempted to get the book reviewed in French periodicals, although without success.

    It is thought to have been the last novel Joyce ever read.