LITERATURE: At Swim-Two-Birds – Character and Voice

What is amazing about this book is the skill with which O’Brien changes voice in this three-ring circus.  Especially with what he throws at us.  Here is a short bit from the first person pov narrator, a university student:

Biographical reminiscence, part the fourth:  The further obtrusion of my personal affairs at this stage is unhappily not entirely fortuitous.  It happens that a portion of my manuscript containing an account (in the direct style) of the words that passed between Furriskey and the voice lost beyond retrieval.  I recollect that I abstracted it from the portfolio in which I kept my writings–an article composed of two boards of stout cardboard connected by a steel spine…(p. 69)

Then, in Furrisky’s story, the cowboys and Indians arrive:

The whole place was burning like billyo in no time and out came Red wih a shotgun in his hand and followed by his men, prepared if you please to make a last stand for king and country.  The Indians got windy and flew back to us behind the buckboards and go to God if Red doesn’t hold up a passing tram and take cover behind it, firing all the poeople out with a stream of filthy language.  (p. 80)

While Ireland is still the setting, the change in lifestyle, era, and tone is within the language, not just in the descriptions.  We’ve got trams and buckboards within the same sentence.  We’ve got O’Brien’s characters changed by situation and environment, but by his opening suggestion, the characters maintain their basic traits–pulled out of the wings and thrown on stage to become what they are.

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