At Swim, Two Boys Hardcover – 3 Sep 2001
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You may have read the hype. Irishman Jamie O'Neill was working as a London hospital porter when his 10-year labour of love, the 200,000-word manuscript of At Swim, Two Boys, written on a laptop during quiet patches at work, was suddenly snapped up for a hefty six-figure advance. He had to open his first bank account to cash the cheque, the story goes. For once, the book fully deserves the hype.
In the spring of 1915, Jim Mack and "the Doyler", two Dublin boys, make a pact to swim to an island in Dublin Bay the following Easter. By the time they do, Dublin has been consumed by the Easter Uprising, and the boys' friendship has blossomed into love--a love that will in time be overtaken by tragedy. O'Neill's prose, playing merrily with vocabulary, syntax and idiom, has unsurprisingly drawn comparisons to James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, but in his creation of comic characters (such as Jim's pathetic but irrepressible father) and in the sheer scale of his work, Charles Dickens springs to mind first. But Dickens never wrote a love story between young men as achingly beautiful as this.
In the character of Anthony MacMurrough, haunted by voices as he pursues his illegal and dangerous desire for Dublin boys, O'Neill has created a complex and fascinating centre to his novel, rescuing the love story from mawkishness, and allowing a serious meditation on history, politics and desire. For as Ireland seeks its own future free of British government, so Jim, Doyle and MacMurrough look back to Sparta to find a way to live their own future. As Dr Scrotes, one of MacMurrough's voices, commands:
Help these boys build a nation their own. Ransack the histories for clues to their past. Plunder the literature for words they can speak.In this massive, enthralling and brilliant début, Jamie O'Neill has indeed done just that: provided a nation for what Walt Whitman calls, in O'Neill's epigraph, "the love of comrades". --Alan Stewart
'The music of Jamie O'Neill's prose creates a new Irish symphony' -- Peter Ackroyd
mesmerizing, sophisticated, intense, nearer to the truth of our lives than most established writers dream of... -- Independent
there is no crisis in fiction except for those who choose not to read it. Dont miss out -- Independent
[A] powerful novel... this is an exhilarating novel, because superabundant creative energy is always exhilarating -- The Daily Telegraph
heartachingly beautiful reminiscent of Joyce. (It will)be the subject of much literary/historiographic discussion for time to come' -- Independent on Sunday
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Top Customer Reviews
Those are my thoughts. But how do I say in a few words what it made me feel? How it made me cry and laugh and yes, see! What images played in my mind as I tried to close the cover but couldn't lift my eyes from the final words? I can't. Only Jamie O'Neill's can do that. Read them. Give up your weekend.
I urge you to read this wonderful novel and I look forward to a brave Director putting it onto the big screen one day without sacrificing the love between these two sixteen year old boys that is at the heart & soul of At Swim Two Boys. There's a reason why Jamie O'Neill was paid so much for this novel, and it lies in it's future, for this is a book which will become a modern classic, a story to be read time and time again by generations to come. It's a shame it had to end really - O'What Cheer.
The novel is a magical evocation of Irish social history interwoven with the secret lives and loves of all of its characters - not simply the two boys of the title. O'Neill's ear for dialogue; the sureness of his prose and the eloquence (but never prudishness) with with he deals with love and sexuality are truly awe-inspiring.
While it is deserved and uplifting that At Swim, Two Boys has not been relagated as a 'gay novel', this is not - for all that has been said - a history of the Easter 1916 which provides a part of the backdrop, nor does it reimagine Irish history - but that I trust was never its intent, nor does it diminish this wonderful novel one whit.
Equally, facile comparisons to Joyce and Flann O'Brien, however flattering are hardly appropriate. O'neill's language moves from the lapidary to the sublime, his coinage is sometimes fabulous, always arresting, but his work in not obsessed with language but with characters, and his language reflects their dreams, their aspirations, their follies and their insecurities. This is not a modernist novel in the Joycean sense, densely allusive, abstruse and all encompassing, but a more traditional novel shot through with briliiance, empathy, honesty and courage which - if it does not redefine Irish history, changes the face of Irish literature.
The main thing for me about the book was the contrasts between innocence and experience, the relationship between the boys always seeming beautiful but in an ugly context.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
set during the Irish troubles, sometimes confusing, also griping, you wonder if it all ends in tears, and it does.Published 8 months ago by Capt Jack
My teacher recommend this book many years ago,I just loved it. I bought my own copy in paperback. Now once again I have it on my book shelf. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Sybronic
Jamie O'Neill's 'At Swim, Two Boys' is a beautifully crafted narrative spanning a year in Ireland during the First World War. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Jamie
A book with great depth. The build up of the characters and the locations is a masterclass in writing. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Ralph
I have had this weighty Irish novel on my bookshelf for about 10 years but hadn't gotten around to reading it. For some reason the reviews of it being 'Joycean' had daunted me. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Maurice66