- Hardcover: 576 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; 1st Scribner ed edition (March 5, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743222946
- ISBN-13: 978-0743222945
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 163 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #345,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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At Swim, Two Boys Hardcover – March 5, 2002
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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 labor 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. 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, 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
From Library Journal
Published last year in Great Britain, this novel has been compared to works by James Joyce (or Flann O'Brien, whose At Swim-Two-Birds the title plays on), but it has more in common with the film Chariots of Fire in its painterly depiction of male athleticism and relationships. The sheltered son of a pro-British shopkeeper, 16-year-old Jim develops a doting and eventually homosexual relationship with Doyler, a bright boy from an impoverished family, as the two train for an ambitious swim across Dublin Bay on Easter 1916, a date that happens to coincide with a planned Republican uprising. Both become entangled with McMurrough, scion of wealthy Irish gentry, who is back in Dublin following imprisonment in England for indecent behavior. Jim is too na ve and Doyler too politically sophisticated for their years, while McMurrough is typecast as an Oscar Wilde figure. Still, these are rich characterizations, and together with the playfully rendered Irish dialect they outweigh the book's imperfections. O'Neill also offers gorgeous descriptions of the Dublin environs and remarkable details of the period. Recommended for most fiction collections. Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
I read this book twice. At first, I thought I was going to give up because of the language. It is a hard read, the author writes in first person, stream of consciousness and uses an Irish dialect and slang. But the more I read, the easier it became (also one of the reasons I re-read it, I missed so much at first before I became used to the writing). The author weaves so much into the story, rich with symbolism and foreshadowing, that every single word on the page matters. The language transformed me into the moment, as if what I was reading on the page was actually happening around me, his use of imagery was vivid and alive. The author also weaves story lines like an expert (and tackles many really hard topics), the fully formed characters with their own motivations and flaws interact with each other and the world at large while being pushed and pulled in unexpected ways. Some of the characters are even predatory or cruel, but have redeeming qualities which adds to their realism. This book also made me cry, the harshness of life during that era is a constant presence throughout the story. This isn't a read for everyone, it is difficult and requires patience, but for those that can persevere, it is a gem, a literary work that is completely beautiful and moving while being gritty and realistic. And the love story between Jim and Doyler is so innocent and awkward and moving, I fell in love with the boys myself.