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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 39 / 50





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conversation. Some of Trellis’ characters enter into a rambling conversation while sitting around a fire with Finn; a contrast develops between the narrative form of Finn’s quasi-heroic poetic narrative and the cowboys’ mundane discourse about their lives. Trellis’ cowboys and Furriskey are interrupted regularly by Finn, and are only able to fully involve themselves in their stories when Finn dozes. The others are also subject to interruptions from members of their own group; a highly comical conversation takes place between them that is all the more funnier for its reflection of real life.

Interruption is a technique of conversation just as much as it is a technique of composition throughout At Swim-Two-Birds; O’Brien is perhaps showing his audience that his highly unorthodox fiction writing, or the disrupted plot that he presents, is not as unorthodox or confusing as one first thinks. Conversation, our main source of information and interaction with others, revolves around interruption and the ability to jump from one topic to another with little introduction. This technique occurs with even more regularity and less explanation between friends. The cowboys share winks and nods about Finn in order to chuckle at his relentless tale without speaking out against him. They attempt to treat this ancient man with respect, although some of the more vulgar characters are rather open with their criticisms of his stories’ length.

Paul Shanahan relates the main section of the cowboys’ narrative, telling of his previous experience as a literary character and giving At Swim-Two-Birds’ readership a larger appreciation for the techniques of creation allowed in the narrator’s created world. Shanahan remembers his work for William Tracy; this tale is a wild affair of cattle rustling and gunfighting. Shanahan tells of a behind-the-scenes bit of action that took place during the composition of one of Tracy’s last novels. While acting as a character in Tracy’s novel, Shanahan lived the lifestyle of the western cowboy:

Rounding up steers, you know, and branding, and breaking in colts in the corral with lassoes on our saddle-horns and pistols at our hips.... At night we would gather in the bunkhouse with our porter and all our orders, cigarettes and plenty there on the chiffonier

to be taken

and no questions asked, school-marms and saloon-girls and little black

maids skivvying there in the galley. (74)

While playing a cowboy’s role, Shanahan and his fellow characters are expected to be cowboys all of the time.

One morning, Shanahan and "a few of the boys" (75) receive a message to meet with Tracy; this is a clever ruse, however, perpetrated by a rival author "by the name of Henderson that was writing another book about cattle-dealers and jobbing and shipping bullocks to Liverpool" (75). Kiersay, Henderson’s protagonist, and his gang have stolen not only Tracy’s cattle, but his servants as well while Shanahan and his men are distracted by this false errand. Unfortunately for Shanahan and his fellow cowboys, they are caught by Kiersay while sneaking up on his bunk-house; Kiersay chases them away at gunpoint, forcing them to resort to their only other option: the police. Besides the police, Shanahan’s friend points out that there are "Red Indians up in the Phoenix Park, squaws and wigwams and warpaint an’ all" (79); these are characters from another book being written by Tracy concurrently, and can be had as mercenaries for the right price. This mix of Tracy’s characters battle Kiersay’s gang and win back their cattle and servants. The end result of this movie-style shootout is the Kiersay gang being charged with seven days hard labour, without the option of paying a fine.

Antony Lamont interrupts Finn’s narrative after becoming confused and asks for a synopsis. Once again, the reader notes a synopsis for those who, like Lamont, perhaps have not


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