In Schwimmen-Zwei-Vögel oder Sweeny auf den Bäumen

by Flann O'Brien

Paperback, 1990



Call number

HN 6554 S415



Zürich: Haffmans


Along with one or two books by James Joyce, Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds is the most famous (and infamous) of Irish novels published in the twentieth century. 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 ultimately rebel against him and seek vengeance. From drugging him as he sleeps to dropping the ceiling on his head, these figures of Irish myth make Trellis pay dearly for his bad writing. Hilariously funny and inventive, At Swim-Two-Birds has influenced generations of writers, opening up new possibilities for what can be done in fiction. It is a true masterpiece of Irish literature.… (more)

Media reviews

At Swim-Two-Birds has such a strong claim to be one of the founding texts of literary postmodernism. All the markers of that baggy but indispensable cultural category—the deconstruction of narrative, the replacement of nature by culture, an ahistoric sensibility in which tropes and genres from
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different eras can be mixed and matched promiscuously, the prominence of pastiche, the notion of language itself as the real author of the work—are openly declared in At Swim.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member slickdpdx
In the recent Dalkey reissue there is a nice intro from William Gass about O'Brien and the book. The book itself was a good read once I brought my expectations back to a reasonable level. It contains a wealth of decent to fine pastiche of Irish lit in addition to its structural shenanigans.
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Representative quote:

The passage, however, served to provoke a number of discussions with my friends and acquaintances on the subject of aestho-psycho-eugenics and the general chaos which would result if all authors were disposed to seduce their female characters and bring into being, as a result, offspring of the quasi-illusory type. It was asked why Trellis did not require the expectant mother to make a violent end of herself and the trouble she was causing by the means of drinking a bottle of disinfectant fluid usually to be found in bathrooms. The answer I gave was that the author was paying less and less attention to his literary work and was spending entire days and nights in the unremitting practice of his sleep. This explanation, I am glad to say, gave instant satisfaction and was represented as ingenious by at least one of the inquirers concerned.
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LibraryThing member fathach
An amazing book, hard to believe that this book was originally published in 1939 in priest-ridden, censorious, holy Catholic Ireland. The book itself is totally original although some would argue that sections of it bear an uncomfortable resemblance to "Ulysses" by the old maestro himself. When
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asked about this, one of Ireland's leading interpreters of O'Brien's work - Eamonn Morrissey - was of the opinion that O'Brien and Joyce "drank from the same well". At times hilarious, this book willmake you laugh - and cry - from beginning to end. A forerunner of the impeccable "Third Policeman" this is O'Brien at his brilliant best, mixing fantasy, surrealism, absurdity and vulgarity as only he can.
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LibraryThing member piccoline
Don't be scared off by the fact that O'Brien's name gets tossed around with Beckett and Joyce, and definitely don't be scared off by the word "metafiction", because this book is hilarious and hard to put down. O'Brien takes the piss out of all manner of Irish blarney, yet by the end you love the
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whole Irish thing all the more.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member markm2315
Although frequently humorous and completely comprehendible at a small scale, I found O'Nolan's most famous work to be very complex and much of it to be quite a slog to get through. At times it seems to be either a parody or imitation of Joyce, but it has peculiar elements, such as the relationship
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of the author or purported author(s) to the characters and the characters to each other that if not unique are certainly unusual. Many odd things are here including found texts and instructions for reading a gas meter. I found The Third Policeman to be much more approachable. It might be that if I were more familiar with Irish legends, Irish literature, and Gaelic I could get more out of this.
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
Not really my kind of read but not a bad read.
LibraryThing member abirdman
My all time favorite work of fiction. Funny, silly, serious, self-involved. In a book by an evil author the characters rebel, and try to create new lives for themselves. That's just one of the many plots all happening simultaneously. "A pint of plain's your only man."
LibraryThing member Clurb
What I read of this was original and imaginative but I struggled with the writing from the start and couldn't even make it half way. In recompense, I feel like I'm missing out.
LibraryThing member SimoneSimone
""Forget bloody James Joyce. This is THE Irish writer.""
LibraryThing member Proverbsforparanoids
At Swim-Two-Birds is an amazing creation. I'd leave it at that, and just tell you to read it as soon as you're able, but unfortunately I feel some sort of obligation to at least try to explain what makes it so wonderful.
At Swim-Two-Birds is, famously, the novel that was postmodern before there was
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such as word. It is about an unnamed, indolent Irish college student who is writing a novel about Dermot Trellis, who is also writing a novel, one that is filled with characters borrowed from other writers. In Trellis' world, one hires a fictional characters like one might a maid, or a gardener, and all his characters are kept prisoner in the Red Swan Hotel, which Trellis calls home.
I would continue with my plot summary but it is, as so many reviewers have noted, impossible and besides the point. O'Brien creates a multi-layered weave that is pleasing on many different levels. It is very, very funny. I have read that it is a mockery of Irish culture and mythology, which I am not too familiar with, and even so I found plenty to laugh at.
But what I don't think O'Brien receives enough credit for is the beauty of his writing. William H. Gass writes in his introduction that O'Brien's sentences go quickly where they need to go, but never in the way you expected them to. I couldn't agree more. I can't remember how many times a sentence surprised me with its knotty, rustic beauty.
Some books are just funny without intending to be anything else; At Swim-Two-Birds is something much more. No words can describe the wonder of it other than those that are found between its two covers.
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LibraryThing member the_terrible_trivium
Some very very funny bits, some fairly baffling bits, and it doesn't really end up cohering too much by the end. Still, unique and well worth it.
LibraryThing member DieFledermaus
This is just a really weird book. Quite interesting. The author uses some oddly formal prose, but not exactly sure the satire. There’s a twisted metafiction plot, with characters plotting the overthrow of their author – all the story of a lazy college student. A lot of Irish history entwined
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with the plots, can be a little hard going, but enough is explained so you’re not lost. Although there are a lot of crazy things going on, a good portion of the book is just small talk and getting from one place to another. The author starts out author considering beginnings for a novel. He has three, one about a supernatural being, the Pooka, named MacPhellimey (like a Harvey the rabbit), another about John Furriskey, born at age 25, and legendary Irish hero Finn MacCool. The author is a college student who rarely goes to class and is always nagged at by his uncle. His story of Finn is continued – mostly with Finn giving long-winded speeches about how he and his clan enjoy magic and poems. Reminiscent of olde-type epic poetry. The highly stylized prose is quite humorous when describing the narrator/author’s experiences with alcohol. Formally written drunkenness. Later, he creates another ‘author’ in his book – fat invalid Dermot Trellis who lives in the Red Swan Hotel. Trellis 'writes' the other stories until his characters get fed up of him and get their revenge.
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LibraryThing member mackthefinger
This has been on my shelf for a while and I only got around to it during the recent snowfall. Took me a while to get into it, as it jumps around a bit to begin with, but I'm glad I stayed with it. Absurd and inventive, funny and irreverent, it had me in stitches. Take's the mickey out of a lot of
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Irish mythology and folklore, and the language is at times dazzling. I'll be reading this again. A pint of plain is youur only man!
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LibraryThing member fourbears
One thing this book reminded me of was writing a rag called "The Cuckoo's Nest" when I was in grad school in the 70ies. It was a dittoed paper distributed throughout the English Department and the goal was riffing on "academic style". I wrote abstracts for fake papers, agenda for academic
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conferences, riffs on footnotes. It was very popular for awhile and I wasted a lot of time at it. (I don't have anything left so maybe it wasn't as funny as I thought.)I'm not saying of course that I really had a masterpiece going, but I felt that spirit behind At Swim Two Birds. The narrator is a student who drinks and parties too much and spends endless time in his room so that his conventional uncle—with whom he lives—assumes he’s wasting time. He begins by telling us that the rules of fiction—one beginning and one ending, for example—make no sense. He insists that no new characters are needed; that writers should use existing characters—which he does, importing, for example, two cowboys from the American West into his Irish story. Well not so much into his story but into the story of the writer, Trellis ,he writes about. And at the end of the novel, the characters take Trellis to court for cruel and inhuman treatment.I suppose there’s a sense in which this book—which is difficult to follow and defeats many readers not willing to follow where it leads—as John Updike says to “drunken banter, journalese, pulp fiction and Celtic myth”—is a novelist’s novel, or at least one primarily of interest to those who study/care about the novel as form. That may account for the fact that although it’s been touted as a work of genius since it was published in 1939, it’s not read much, except in university courses in the novel—which is where I first encountered it 40 years ago.O’Brien’s—his real name was Brian O’Nolan and he also wrote a long-standing column in The Irish Times under the name Myles na gCopaleen—immediate predecessor is of course Joyce. One friend of mine, in fact, calls this novel "Joyce Lite", i.e., likely to prime readers for reading Ulysses and maybe even Finnegans Wake. Nothing illustrates O’Brien’s writing genius like when he gets hooked on a tale or a topic and runs away with it—until the reader collapses in laughter—innocuous subjects like tea and tobacco (which I remember from near the end). Usually totally out of the context of the story or only tangential, but an individual opportunity for cleverness and humor. Even just lists as when he "characterizes" Furriskey, Lamont and Shanaghan by systematically going through a list of qualities using a word or phrase for each character. Starts out informative and ends up hilarious. Head: brachysephalic; bullet; prognathicVision: tendencies toward myopia; wall-eye; nyctalopiaConfiguration of nose: roman, snub; mastoidUnimportant physical afflictions: palpebral ptosis, indigestion; German itchThe descriptions of Finn McCool in the beginning are like that—the descriptions go way beyond "describing" and into the area of the kind of humor that results from building up of detail upon detail—all that circumference of his body parts—“the neck to him was as the bole of a great oak, knotted and seized together with muscle humps and carbuncles of tangled sinew, the better for good feasting and contending with the bards. His chest to him was wider than the poles of a good chariot, coming now out, now in, and pastured from chin to navel with meadows of black man-hair and meated with layers of fine man-meat the better to hide his bones and fashion the semblance of his twin bubs.” And so forth, longer and cleverer than you’d think any man could extend the comparisons.All this would be tedious were it not so outrageous in the detail and so well written. The details are carefully chosen (no matter how random they seem) and if you read it aloud, the sentences are beautiful. There's a blurb by Updike about O'Brien on the back of my book: "Like Beckett, O'Brien...has the gift of the perfect sentence, the art, which they both learned from Joyce, of turning plain language into a lyric pitch."It also reminds me a little bit of Basil Fawlty when he goes off on one of his very funny tangents. In fact the humor of Monty Python works on a principal which Flann O'Brien uses again and again in this book. It's not so much the subject of Fawlty's raves that provides the humor, but (1) the sheer accumulation of ridiculous detail and (2) his ability to deliver the long speech fast and furiously with physical movements to enhance the humor--the acting equivalent of a perfect sentence. The title, by the way, comes from the literal translation of an Irish place name.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
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
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more Flann O'Brien soon enough.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
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
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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 seriously folks, take my mother, really, take her please, and make sure she doesn't have to read this stand up routine masquerading, quite self-consciously, as a novel, or rather a novel about a novel, or, to be quite precise, a record by the narrator about his life while writing a novel about a pub-owner writing a novel about characters stolen from other novels, in which those characters spend all their time telling stories and reciting poems, i.e., kind of talking out very short novels, only all the characters are also 'real,' not fictional, and can affect the life of the pub-owner. Meta-fictional nonsense ensues, self-consciously, and conceptually it's interesting in a two page Borges story kind of way. But it takes over 200 pages.

Now, I'm quite willing to believe that other readers might find all of this hilarious. But not being an aficionado of Irish myth and legend, cowboy novels, blarney, or novels about novels, I found much of it tedious. It's a fabulous linguistic showpiece, and I'm willing to keep it and give it another shot in a few years. But for now I find it unreadable.
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LibraryThing member figre
Reading Flann O'Brien always makes me feel I am on the edge – on the edge of understanding, on the edge of sanity, on the edge of enjoying myself. That is, O'Brien's dizzying approach to "story" and the associated images is far enough out there that I am not always sure I have been invited on the
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correct trip.

But I have always found the voyage (whether I was really invited or not) bizarre and strange, and there has not been a trip I did not enjoy.

At Swim-Two-Birds comes as close to leaving me at the station as any of O'Brien's work. In fact, I'm not sure that, this time, I made it for the actual ride.

Plots are somewhat superfluous to what O'Brien is doing with his writing (not to mention confusing if not just down right unintelligible), but here is what's going on this time. The narrator is attempting to go to school as he writes his novel. However, it is obvious that laying about, drinking, and living off his uncle are much more important than school. In spite of this somewhat suspect focus in life, his novel is making progress (as is his school work.) The novel itself is about a novelist who is writing a novel. However, this second novelists creations are coming to life, fighting him and trying to take over. (Or are there three different stories being written by the narrator that, as they come to life, intertwine? I'm not sure I ever got this straight. But I'm also not sure it is that important.) Absurdity mounts as the characters begin to take umbrage at the gentleman who is writing their lives (one of the characters in the novel – not the narrator himself), so they drug him and begin to take control of their own lives. One of the characters, to provide retribution against the author in the story, becomes an author himself and writes about his creator's trial and death.

Did I mention that describing an O'Brien plot is an exercise in frustration? Suffice to say that absurdity is piled on absurdity.

Such adventures can be fun. And O'Brien has numerous examples of his success at writing this way. Unfortunately, this time I felt as if I wasn't allowed in on the joke as strongly. In particular it seemed some of the exposition went on too long. And, in a very rare response for this type of writing, I got to the end and wondered what it was all for.

There is entertainment to be had in this book. And O'Brien's writing is as absurd as ever. But the final product just doesn't have the resonance of other efforts I have read to date.
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LibraryThing member magicians_nephew
An unnamed student, living with his uncle and working not very hard to finish his schooling, begins writing a novel.

The characters in the novel include louts from the local as well as legendary figures from Irish mythology and legend. "Mad King Sweeny" shows up and I had to put the book down and
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go a'Googling. Live and Learn.

(The author says you should always use characters in your novel that already exist so everyone knows them right away and it saves time.)

But pretty soon the characters in the novel (inside the novel) get restless being pushed around by their author and they begin writing a novel of their own. (Huh?). And we are down the rabbit hole with a vengeance. Fiction and meta-fiction and pushing and popping back and forth. If this makes sense to you, I'm not telling it right.

The book gently satirizes Irish literature and the Irish middle class and the study of Irish lore and legend and that's fun to listen to. There's a trial scene that is very funny indeed. The writing is sharp and clear and sometimes lyrical and sometimes even more. In the end our anonymous student passes his exams and gets a gold watch from his Uncle and is on his way.

But I suspect it was more fun to write than it was to read. Your mileage may vary
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LibraryThing member adrianburke
I remember first reading this in Belfast during the mid-seventies staying at my sister's flat off the Ormeau Road. First night there they blew up the pub at the end of the road. Memorable.
LibraryThing member Fenoxielo
Brilliant on many levels, since it's meta-fiction. It may not seem that radical when read today, but O'Brien was truly creating something that had never been done before with At Swim-Two-Birds. His language is both engaging and compelling to read while at the same time incredibly dense and almost
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baroque. Read this book if you want to have your mind blown.
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LibraryThing member buffalopoet
Ladies and gentleman, for your consideration: the archetypal slacker-college-student-undiscovered-artist. His lofty aspirations and lackluster ambition average out, topographically, to a tragically amusing meadow of some kind. He's curt and defensive to those by whom, we're assured, he's woefully
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misunderstood (including the inevitable tuition-paying family). He's haughty in the classroom or any other venue where his superiority isn't acknowledged up front. And of course, he's often brilliant and entertaining among friends or a friendly audience – particularly when fueled by alcohol. He's been a staple in literature since, well, since colleges, and literature, were invented.

Among the most brilliantly-rendered and hysterically funny members of this fraternity is the unnamed, Dublin university student at the center of Flann O'Brien's 1939 novel At Swim-Two-Birds. He lives in a spare room in the home of his uncle (“holder of Guinness clerkship the third class” we're told derisively and often): an uncle who's suspicious of the sleep-to-study ratio he's observing in his nephew. The young man's interactions with his uncle, or his drinking mates, as he divides his days between astonishing quantities of sleep, Imperial Stout, and occasional visits to class, are worth the price of admission alone. But it's the novel he's working on, and the progress of its characters, that make At Swim-Two-Birds astonishing to read.

His novel's central character is one Dermot Trellis, who lives in the Red Swan Hotel and has stayed in bed for as much of the last twenty years as is possible. And of course, Mr. Trellis is working on a novel as well. His novel, however, is birthing characters who chafe at the control the author exerts over them, including those whom Trellis 'borrows' from other novels and fables. They discover autonomy during Trellis' extended slumbers, and begin to fight back. Keeping track of which novel a given character inhabits at any given time is as challenging as it is entertaining. But it's the conversation of these absurdly diverse characters, rendered with with O'Brien's gift for language, that makes it hard to read in public, which reacts with suspicion to those who burst into sudden, repeated laughter.

At Swim-Two-Birds is a gem, and the blistering pace of the final chapters becomes a shocking study of the ethics or authorial invention – shocking mainly because you continue laughing throughout. Its reputation among writers (I first learned of it while reading William Gass' essay 'Fifty Literary Pillars') is well deserved, and I look forward sitting down with it again to see what I missed on the first go-around.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
One of the funniest books I've read in some time. Set in the Boston suburbs of the 1960's & 70's the main premise of the book is that the Gullivan brothers want to drive to Braintree to score some weed. During the Blizzard of 1978. Disguised as Red Cross Workers. They swiftly are sidetracked in
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their quest for a buzz as they have to assist people trapped in the storm. Told in first person by the elder brother John, the book relies on flashbacks to flesh out the story of the Gullivan family one that I find close to home. The narrative quickly veers away from it's silly but appealing premise to delve into more serious issues as the death of the Gullivan's mother and John re-igniting a romance with neighbor Dally (a raven-haired tomato). It reads as if Dude, Where's My Car were written by John Irving if he'd been raised Irish-American and Catholic.

"Is it possible that's all maturity is? Speaking better? Is it possible that everybody in the world -- the monsignor and president included -- is just a dumb, stupid kid acting like a grown-up because they can sound and look like one? It almost seems easy." - p. 212
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LibraryThing member Wubsy
I cannot write a review of a book this bizarre, other than to say that it is brilliantly creative.
LibraryThing member leslie.98
This might have been a 4* book for me if I had been more familiar with Irish legends and culture. After a bit of a rocky start, I started enjoying this. People who like or admire James Joyce will probably like this even more than I did -- I am not a fan of Joyce's style of writing in "Ulysses"
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which O'Brien parodies here.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
While I can appreciate why others might enjoy Flann O'Brien's "At Swim-Two-Birds," reading it was akin to torture to me. I'm not entirely certain I would have understood what was going on without reading the back of the book before starting the novel.

It's the story of a drunk Irish guy who is
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writing a novel about an author and all of the author's characters start interacting with each other. It's supposed to be funny, but it's definitely not the kind of humor I find funny.

I found this book to be confusing and silly. I can appreciate what O'Brien was trying to do. But what it really boils down to, is this book was just not my cup of tea and so I found it a completely unenjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member dbancrof
Claimed by its author to have been so detested by Hitler that he started World War II just to sabotage its sales, this 1939 novel is about a guy writing a novel about a guy writing a novel. Unexpectedly, the characters from the innermost story, yearning for freedom, rebel against their author by
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trapping him in a novel of their own. This is not always an easy read, but there is no matching Flann O'Brien's witty and subversive imagination.
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Original language


Original publication date



3251010980 / 9783251010981

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