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At Swim, Two Boys Hardcover – 3 Sep 2001

4.7 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; New edition edition (3 Sept. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743207122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743207126
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.5 x 6.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 48,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

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. Don’t 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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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As if I have just woken from a dream: a novel read over the weekend. Against an utterley convincing historical backdrop, O'Neill has portrayed the love, true love, of two boys for each other. An emotional & sexual understanding grows at the same time as a politically conscious one. Personal loyalties are bound in with the whirlwind of change that saw Ireland of the 1910's move from King & Empire against the Kaiser to various shades of green. There have been comparisons to Joyce, indeed much is Joycean as we know it. The erudition, the word play and a familiar rhythmic Irish re-arrangement of the language. But in the end novels must stand their own stand. This one is full of joy & sadness, full of revelation & change for all the main protagonists but most of all for young Jim & Doyler.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a a beautiful book telling the love story of two Dublin boys in the period up to and including the Easter Rising. I have never read a so-called "gay" novel before which so marvellously sets its chief characters against the background of anguished political events leading inevitably to a tragic end. Readers, particularly gay readers, will fall in love with Jim and Doyler. But besides these two there is a host of fascinating other characters who leap of tbe page. Jamie O'Neill is a superb, funny,original and innovative writer who has you turning page after page wondering what will happen next and leaving you in tears at the end. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I always knew there was something special about this novel. Even when I first read the reviews of the original hardback upon it's original release. Now, months later, I have just finished At Swim Two Boys and it has left me in floods of tears. No other novel has had the power, the courage, the conviction, to touch me like this has and it is a credit to the wonderous Jamie O'Neill that he has managed to produce such an emotive epic. No it's not an easy read at times and I wish I was knowledgable enough to know more about Irish history, that way I would have fully understood the times this novel explored. But, and this is an important but, it didn't stop me getting enthralled in the characters lives. Jim Mack & Doyler, oh, they seem so real to me, so utterly in love that I was literally savouring every moment that featured them. O'Neill also has this marvellous way of producing Irish dialogue that sparkles off the page, especially with Doyle and the words he uses to communicate with the love of his life; 'Pal Of me heart', 'Are you straight?' 'Are we straight?' All these words, and more, they're still with me now and will be for a long time to come.
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.
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Format: Paperback
The only awkward thing about Jamie O'Neill's novel is its (admittedly apposite) title which quotes from Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the most moving book I have read for many years. I was consumed by it and savoured the beauty of the language. Early on I was concerned that quite explicit sexual descriptions would spoil it for me but they did not intrude.
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.
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