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At Swim, Two Boys: A Novel Paperback – March 4, 2003
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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, who is haunted by voices as he pursues his illegal and dangerous desire for Dublin boys, O'Neill has created a complex and fascinating center 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. As Dr Scrotes, one of MacMurrough's voices, commands:
Help these boys build a nation of their own. Ransack the histories for clues to their past. Plunder the literature for words they can speak.In this massive, enthralling, and brilliant debut, 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, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Set during the year prior to the Easter Rising in 1916, the novel focuses on two 16-year-old boys, Doyler and Jim, and their families. The main characters are finely portrayed, and (as others have noted) they successfully arouse the reader's sympathies. But O'Neill adds a memorable supporting cast: Jim's aunt, a doddering, whiskered crone who always seems far more aware of what's going on than one is led to believe; Eva MacMurrough, a rich patron of Irish rebel causes who is flustered by her nephew's Wildean tendencies; and, for comic relief, Jim's father, a pretentious wannabe who always manages to be in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.
The most nuanced portrayal is that of the Anthony MacMurrough. Once may quibble over whether he is a pedophile: textual clues place his age in his early- to mid-20s; Doyler, his "rent boy," is 16.Read more ›
This is not a "genre" novel; it's outstanding writing by any standards one could think to apply. The story is tightly crafted, rich and complex, and the characters are unforgettable. And yes, as some reviewers discovered to their chagrin, a number of them display the moral ambiguity so characteristic of our species.
I gave this novel to my wife when I finished it, and recommended it to my (also straight) 22-year-old son. If you love fine writing and aren't obsessed with hating those whose sexual orientation puts them in the minority, you'll be deeply moved by this novel.
It's a simple tale about a difficult time: the story of the friendship and love between two Irish boys, Jim and Doyler (one poor, the other poorer) in the years leading up to the Easter Rising. The period is brilliantly evoked: the wealth (faux or true) of the gentry contrasted with the abject poverty of so many others, the incredible sociopolitical power wielded by the Roman Catholic Church, the overwhelming depressive feeling of being colonized by the British as well as the fears of those who've thrived (or at least endured) during the British regime, the stirrings of nationalism, the rationalization of violence, the events of the Rising itself. One could make a case for the core theme of this novel to be that of rebellion---that of the country echoing that of the boys, their mentor, their families---with all the plotting, secrets, fear, and frustration that such rebellion entails.
It's a heartbreaking book. It doesn't take a romantic view of Ireland, though there are romantics a-plenty among the cast of characters. It can be painful to see someone's idealism break like a wave against the rock of an unjust law, a social paradigm, an historical event. And it's also wonderful to experience someone pulling a moral, true action from beneath a facade of politesse or a lifelong habit of obedience.
I cried at the end. The plot crescendoes like a great cresting wave of events, emotion, loss, and love, and I felt it in my gut. Maybe it had a little more resonance for me because my dad had cousins who died in the Rising, but this is a book for anyone to read who likes a character-driven story that is beautifully told.Read more ›
Mr. O'Neill's prose is fine indeed. One example: there is a wonderful scene when MacMurrough watches Jim leave him. "A terrible fear shook him, a fear for his boy and what the future might hold. Lest he should stumble and the crowd should find him. For we live as angels among the Sodomites. And every day the crowd finds some one of us out. . . There is no grand mistake. Aristotle wrote something that Augustine got wrong that Aquinas codified in law. . . What hates is madness. There's no reason, only madness. . . Who but a madman could revile this boy?" This is NOT the love that dare not speak its name.
Words used to describe this novel sound trite: "honor," "optimism," "friendship," "patriotism," "love." We can only hope Mr. O'Neill does not take 10 years to write another novel.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Jamie O'Neill wrote a great coming of age story set against the looming Irish uprising. Very good at evoking the feeling and language of the day. Read morePublished 3 months ago by David C.
fantastic story. I re read the last chapter three or four times. I can not get the characters out of my mind!Published 6 months ago by Barry Peele
The is by far the best book I have read in several years. A,truly moving love tangle embedded in a great historical Mosaic. Great.Published 7 months ago by Fr. Tom
I gave it three stars but I really had trouble with reading this book. I was able to read through the first (IDN) 8 chapters or more then I started to become really bored and only... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Angel
I love a good book . I almost always finish a book. I have picked this book up 3 times......I go back to it in between selections of books.......when I have nothing else to read . Read morePublished 9 months ago by Alan Crickett
It took a little bit to get into the older dialect, but I really got into this book. It really digs up an era, while telling a story.Published 9 months ago by C. Stewart
This a love story beautifully written in the style of Joyce's Ulysses. The story is set amid the war in 1919 Republican separatists and British government forces. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Christopher Norman
This book is many things. The spirit of two young men whose daily swims the leads to love will haunt you. This is Ireland during WWI. A story of poverty of a powerful church. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Rick X. Widdicomb
One of the best novels I have read in the past few years. The author's use of language is like few others writing today. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Brian in Newton NJ