Photo by Tal Bright used under a Creative Commons license.
Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds (Dalkey Archive Press, 1998).
Writing in Salon’s Literary Guide to the World, John Banville recommends this novel as Ireland reading:
While the celebrated “The Third Policeman” is probably the finer work artistically, “At Swim-Two-Birds” is funnier. O’Brien, real name Brian O’Nolan — which, paradoxically, sounds, to an Irish ear, entirely made up — was one of the oddest birds in the Irish aviary of literary oddities, a self-loathing product of an ultra-nationalist family whose humor was as black and twisted as a blackthorn stick. “At Swim-Two-Birds” — that hilarious postmodernist-before-its-time fantasia, with Mad Sweeney in the trees and Wild West cowboys galloping through the streets of Dublin — sank like a stone when it came out on the eve of war in 1939, and even lifelines from the likes of Graham Greene could not rescue it, but it remains a comic masterpiece, as galling as a bad draught of Guinness, and as Irish as rain.
Here is a brief excerpt. Google Book Search has a preview and more. Here is Wikipedia’s page on Flann O’Brien, the nom de plume of Brian O’Nolan. Allen Barra wrote about O’Brien in the St. Petersburg Times. Eric Mader-Lin wrote this brief essay on the book. Eight years later, Eric Mader (coincidence? I think not) wrote this somewhat longer essay. Here is The Modern Word’s Flann O’Brien page, and here is the discussion of At Swim-Two-Birds. Sheila O’Malley writes about it, and also links to this essay by John Updike on O’Brien. Nathaniel Rich writes about O’Brien and the novel at Slate. Here’s a review by Anthony Campbell. Christopher says “approach with caution.” Lev Grossman (in Time) says it’s one the 100 best English-language novels since 1923. Nicholas “can see why people get obsessed with” it. Fionnchú discusses the technique that has made it “memorable for nearly six decades of flummoxed, chortling, and delighted readers.” Graeme Mitchell calls it a “must must must (etc.) read for one and all.” Matt says it’s “brilliant and intricate.” It made Profmike laugh out loud. Brian Rock posted the abstract of his paper on the novel.