Flann O'Brien's most popular and surrealistic novel concerns an imaginary, hellish village police force and a local murder.
Weird, satirical, and very funny, its popularity has suddenly increased with the mention of the novel in the TV series Lost.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
© and (P)2007 Naxos Rights International
"If ever a book was brought to life by a reading, it is this presentation of O'Brien's posthumously published classic. Norton individually crafts voices and personalities for each character in such a way that a listener might imagine an entire cast of voice talent working overtime....[He] ties the ribbon on a perfect presentation of this absurd and chilling masterpiece." (Publishers Weekly)
Jim Norton is the best reader of audiobooks bar none. His reading of Ulysses is a revelation - making the book readable to me for the first time, but this is also inspiring - and very very funny for O'Brien's tale is a wonderful demonstration of how to make a nonsensical and unfilmable plot into something tangible and compelling. It is a perfect demonstration of how the requirements of logic can appear to be suspended and yet still operating at a narrative level. Totally brilliant all round.
This is one of the two or three best audiobooks I've yet heard (Julian Rhind-Tutt's Master and Margarita and Anthony Heald's Crime and Punishment both being worth a mention as well.) I'd actually recommend this above just reading the book straight, because Jim Norton's command southern Irish accents and total understanding of the text bring out the humour in a way no voice in your head is likely to. Someone should drag this man bodily back into the studio and MAKE him record At Swim-Two-Birds.
As for the book itself... well, it's possibly the weirdest book I know. Kind of Crime and Punishment meets Alice with a hint of Father Ted thrown into the mix. I think it's a (slightly flawed) masterpiece, others think it's a mess. But even if it doesn't hold together for you, it's probably still worth it just for some absolutely fabulous flights of the comic imagination.
Wonderful language and beautifully pitched narration. Lovely use of odd descriptive terms
The use of language and the characters. Its not about the destination....its all about the journey
Like the lovechild of Father Ted and The Guard on acid
Flann O'Brien wrote extensively in an Irish version of English. The odd grammar reflects elements of Irish sentence structure that helps imbue the language with extra absurdity. Its a shame that the influence of the Irish language will be superceded by the cocacolanistion of Ireland (and the UK) by the dominant American media culture
An insane, comic allegory read by Father Ted's Bishop Brennan? What's not to like?
A beautifully crafted tale of the absurd that can only come from an Irish mind; lyrical, comical, and wonderfully visual.
A young man returns home to an unusual set of circumstances which seems to accept with disinterest and good grace as he is too engrossed in the study of the works of the fictional scientist/philosopher de Selby. Finally, when his crooked tenant declares that they are short on cash and suggests they rob & murder a local misery, our protagonist appears to willing go along with the scheme. Things take a strange turn when, eventually, the tenant agrees to divide up the stolen loot and lets our 'hero' fetch it from where it has been hidden. He then embarks upon a strange journey involving bicycle-obsessed policeman that inhabit buildings desperately short of dimensions. All the way through there are references and cross-references to scholars of the works of de Selby, and the intense and almost violent rivalries between them, which form a backdrop to the main story.
This book is almost a rite of passage for any fan of the comically absurd and Jim Norton is the ideal and logical choice. In fact, upon listening, one couldn't imagine anyone else reading it. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
As has been mentioned on another review, this book is not the usual fayre and thus has been received by many with mixed feelings.
It's an odd read: strange happenings - a lot involving bicycles - in pursuit of ill gotten gains. Treachery abounds in a place populated by unusual souls. I kind of understood the main character's predicament and so there were no suprises in the ending for me.
This version is well narrated, though I may have had the occasional quibble with pronunciation. There are footnotes in this book (be warned!) mostly relating to the work of a fictional scientist and philosopher, de Selby, which interrupt the storyline and I'm not sure how these contribute to the plot - really - but Mr Norton deals with these deftly.
I'm not sure I could recommend this book; it certainly held my interest on long, boring commutes, but is that really a recommendation? I don't think I would intentionally sit down to read it; in fact, I've had a hard copy on my bookshelves for a few years now never having passed the first page. Still, the audio was pleasant, but it truly was an odd choice of material.
If you want something weird, odd, strange and befuddling, this is the audio book for you.
Many reviews have been written about this title elsewhere on the web, so there seems little point in going into granular detail of what it?s about here. Just visit them and I think you?ll get the general picture. As for my opinion of it ? to be honest I?m left in two minds. I started off loving it, then hated it and at the end couldn?t really decide whether I?d enjoyed it or not! Yes, without doubt it?s strange, immensely clever, original (almost a forerunner to Father Ted in some of the more comic elements - guessing a stranger?s name immediately springs to mind for those of you who are fans of the series) and contains some of the best writing I have ?listened to?. The narration is also first rate (yet another Father Ted connection here too).
However, it could just be me but parts of this simply bored the pants off of me. I normally get through a lengthy (12 hours) audio book in a week or two but this one took me over a month and its just under seven hours long! The reason - well there?s only so much otherworldly ?nonsense? you can listen to and not let your thoughts drift off. If you let that happen then you loose the plot of course (not that I?m sure that really matters at times in this case) and have to 'rewind' or take a break from it.
So ? should you get this? It?s difficult to say really. I think some will absolutely love it and others hate it. To be honest its complete rubbish but then again wonderful rubbish ? I?m not being very helpful here am I? Oh go on, if you want to try something different then give it a go and see how you feel at the end of it ? what?s a few quid eh? Now I know how it ends I may even have a re-listen to see how it all pieces together. How many audio books can you say that about? I think I must have liked it (probably)!
The very accomplished comedy aside, this is the only novel I've read that effectively communicates the apprehension and sense of foreboding encountered in nightmares. Hilarious and disturbing in equal measures, what a book.
This is a very funny story but the narrator makes it great. It is surreal so one must suspend logic to enjoy it.
The skill and talent of Jim Norton is unbelievable. I would like to know if he is Irish or not. He has the accent down pat. His ability to interpret the various characters, and there are many weird and wonderful, is fantastic.
"Hell is other people's bicycles."
"Joe had been explaining things in the meantime. He said it was again the beginning of the unfinished, the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered, the fresh-forgetting of the unremembered. Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular and by nature it is interminable, repetitive and very nearly unbearable."
- O'Brien (omitted from the published novel)
After finishing Flann O'Brien's dark masterpiece of absurdity, I wanted to jam a well-chewed copy of Joyce in one pocket, a copy of Sterne in the other, push a DFW in my back left pocket, put some dark strawberry jam in my back right pocket, turn left twice, exit into my tight little garage and immediately make sweet sweet love to the nearest bicycle available. No. Not yet. She's not ready, nor is my review. I'll pick up this peach tomorrow.
So, it isn't tomorrow, but time and peaches are relative in purgatory. This is one of those books that is nearly impossible to review, but there is a space beyond impossible where letting go of this book exists. So, let's press forward shall we? The prose is amazing, funky; it floats and bursts from the page. Like Joyce and other Irish writers, O'Brien OWNs the English language (it is merely mortgaged to us mortals). Reading O'Brien is like watching one of those strange kids who can keep a soccer ball from ever hitting the ground. Gravity just doesn't matter. But let's bounce back to bikes and literature >
So, Flann O'Brien's novel seems to exist in a strange purgatory between Sterne's 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman' and DFW's 'The Broom of the System'. It is full of digressions, wooden legs, bicycles, murder, policemen (obviously), footnotes*, and much much more. This is one of those novels where rules are murdered and post-modernism is both born and twisted. There are books that are written to be sold and novels written to be worshiped. Get on your knees fellow travelers and start praying.
Norton's narration is brilliant. Seriously, BRILLIANT.
*O'Brien was out DFWing DFW before DFW was born.
"Worth the Effort"
It is hard to figure out where this book is going at times, however it has many comical parts and the narrator does a great job. It is written in the same style as Joseph Heller's Catch 22 and I would think that if you liked that book you would also like this one. The book might not make total sense until you finish it though.
"Now that was a fine pancake"
On another continent, Flann O'Brien could masquerade as John Kennedy Toole. Delightful wit. I can recommend it without any reservation.
"A leap of imagination! Actually pleasurable."
Unusual humour which kept me listening on and off but could never discount it's originality which kept me listening even though I wasn't laughing! I genuinely liked this book . The narration was brilliantly done.
"I just didn't get it..."
I am honest enough to say I didn't get this book and confident enough to admit that it was probably just me. I was able to follow the book, per say, meaning I knew what was going on, but the whole time I kept saying, "What?". I felt lost. Hey - that might have been the point though. The narrator was good - and really it was his soothing voice that kept me going. I kept waiting for something to happen. While tons did in fact happened, but they all left me thinking, "okay NOW it's going to make sense". That never happened. It is a well written book, but, well, just not my kind of book I suppose.
"Rambling and funny"
Flann O'Brien is an acquired taste but give him a chance - he's worth it.
He has a free associative style of writing and sometimes you wonder where you're going and where you've been - but he's funny, very funny.
Stick with it; this book is surprisingly good,funny very Irish
"The Other Policeman's Ball"
I recall that in the 90s there was a series of comedic/musical shows put on by Amnesty International and, at least originally, led by John Cleese (Monty Python), called "The Secret Policeman's Ball". I have no idea if this title inspired the name of those farcical, funny shows (which you can still find parts of on You Tube), but it could well have done.
This book, often regarded as at the forefront of the Post Modernest movement in literature, has everything and nothing. It is full to the brim, yet empty of content. It is insightful about things that really are of no consequence. And it is very, very clever.
However, it is not for everyone. It is very difficult to follow if you don't listen carefully. Example: my practice is to listen to books in the car to work and back; but not this book. It is too dense with detail and the devil is not only to be found there, but finding him/her is not enough. You then have to pour them a cup of tea and sup' with them for fear that you too will petrify over time, turn into a bicycle or come to admit understanding of something that is not capable of rational thought. Put another way, if you like "Catch 22", you will probably find this book illogical!
I can't say I enjoyed the book. It was a bit too much like hard work. But I admire it immensely, I am astounded by its breath of literary allusion and I loved the Irish wit (what an Aussie might call, "taking the piss"!). The ludicrous footnotes to the works of de Selby are a good example of this.
I agree with the other reviewers that Norton's reading is nothing short of brilliant.
Finally, a reminder that, like all Naxos productions I have downloaded, there is a PDF that comes with the title. They are generally worth the effort to open up (from the My Books table on the Audible site) and that is true in this case, too.
"Post-modern and absurd in the best way"
The linear writing of theories from De Selby and the policemen are ridiculous and absurd which is why this book is so amusing.
I can only say At-Swim-Two-Birds because Flann O'Brien has a unique comedic ability.
I listened at 0.75x speed. Jim Norton brings some of the characters to life in a consistent way that can sometimes fall by the wayside if you were just reading it. The one that I find most amusing is Policeman MacCruiskeen. He is such an odd man and the voicing is just perfect.
Almost all moments in the police barracks were amazingly creative and hilarious.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.