Originally published April 3rd, 2015
The edition of this book that I own has a quote from James Joyce on the back: “That’s a real writer, with the true comic spirit.” I think the Joycean novel At Swim-Two-Birds is most similar to in style, if not in length, is Ulysses. If you’ve read Ulysses, that should give you a rough idea of what you’ll be getting in to here. And if you haven’t read Ulysses, but you want to, this might be a good trial run. It’s quite strange. Endearingly strange. O’Brien’s characters were rarely what I expected them to be, and just when I had a handle on the proceedings they got flipped upside down. It’s also a good book to read with a dictionary close by. Occasionally O’Brien will explain the vocabulary he’s stunning you with, but usually not. For example, on page 173 he squeezes agamous, allogamy, azoic, and arachnoid (as an adjective) into the same sentence. He thoughtfully defines azoic on page 174, but leaves you on your own for the other three. Even if your vocabulary is extensive, chances are good you’re going to want a little help. Or maybe a lot. O’Brien has written the kind of book you can read repeatedly and keep getting new things out of it. Every sentence has been stuffed with nuance, wit, and lunacy.
Last tidbit: my favourite quote from this book is “A window without rat-flight past it is a backyard without a house.” (174)
Yep, mostly lunacy.