RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
16 September 2007
At Swim Two Birds...Flann O'Brien 'Intoxicatingly funny.'
Flann O'Brien. AT SWIM TWO BIRDS.Longmans, London 1939.
Current Selling Prices $2000+ / £1200+
MODERN FIRST EDITION / FICTION / IRISH LITERATURE
Comic and surreal masterpiece admired by Joyce, although he is not on the jacket blurb (was he ever?). JJ , nearly blind at the time read it with a magnifying glass and pronounced: 'That's a real writer, with the true comic spirit.' Also rated by Greene who was instrumental in getting it published, Beckett, Dylan (who is on the blurb - 'This is just the book to give your sister - if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl!') and in our time Nicholson Baker ('intoxicatingly funny.') Flann didn't have a lot of success in his time and his next novel (also something of a cult) 'The Third Policeman' was turned down and appeared posthumously. O' Brien (aka Myles Na Gopaleen) played a mean game of billiards and liked the black stuff and plenty of it. He wrote: 'When money's tight and hard to get/ And your horse is also ran,/ When all you have is a heap of debt /A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN.'
VALUE? Sometimes seen, along with a lot of other homegrown lit, wildly overpriced down Dublin way- even indifferent second state unjacketed copies require a 1000 euro note. Auction records reveal 'uncorrected page proofs' selling for £1100 at Sotheby's in 1997. Venerable world class dealers Quaritch have one in d/j at £2K and that's about the limit for the second state slick grey one, the black is the first state (above) and can command as much as £3K or $5000 in a smart jacket. The trouble with all this is that it is a book whose greatest devotees seldom have a lot of spare change, and that's a fact. Stop Press Sept 07. The £2000 copy seems to have sold, an Irish book and art dealer has the US first (Pantheon 1939) at £1.6K a slightly barking, 'dream on' price because copies of the US first can be had in similar condition for less than £300. As Shakespeare might have said: 'Thy wish was father to that price.' [ W/Q *** ]
TRIVIA. O'' Brien's novel 'The Third Policeman' was featured in the October 5, 2005 episode of the hit television series 'Lost'. At one point during the episode (entitled "Orientation"), a copy of the book can be seen. The episode concerns the main characters' discovery of a mechanism which they are told must be reset at every 108 minutes by entering the numbers (4 8 15 16 23 42), or else "the world will be destroyed." The series' creators have said that anyone who has read the book "will have a lot more ammunition when dissecting plotlines" of the show. The book has seen a significant sales increase since its role in 'Lost'.
In our Charing Cross shop almost every day someone asks for it (we often have a copy) - other visitors also ask the way to the Soho pub 'The Rusty Cauldron', which doesn't exist outside of Harry Potter - however there is a rather camp pub called the Duke of York, known to some of its waggish punters as 'The Rusty Cauldron' and we occasionally send them there. Our picture below shows Anthony Cronin, John Ryan and Flann O'Brien (right with knee raised--possibly showing it to Cronin who created 'Dr. Finlay') on Bloomsday, Michael Scott's house, Sandycove, Co. Dublin 1940s.
Q. Who is Flann O'Brien?
A. Brian Nolan.
Q. Who is Brian Nolan?
A. Myles na Gopaleen.
Q. What did these three men do?
A. They wrote three books called "At Swim-Two-Birds."
--Brendan Behan, Irish Times, 30 July 1960