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At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill
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At Swim, Two Boys (2001)

by Jamie O'Neill

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In 1915 Jim Mack works in his father's shop, takes teasing from his older brother in stride and weathers the remarks of the other, wealthy, boys at his Catholic school. Life is fixed. One of the brothers insists he may have a vocation, his father has his own plans for him, and Jim is content to let these decisions be made for him. That is, until the one friend he used to have, Doyler Doyle, comes back after four years absence with a Republican message that shakes up Glasthule, just as the war is shaking the rest of the world. Doyler rekindles his friendship with Jim and forces him to think for himself and inspires greater feelings.

O'Neill writes in a stream-of-consciousness indebted to Joyce, certainly, but, after the initial plunge, the thoughts of the characters are clear and understandable. It is a beautifully written novel, and while most of the attention deservedly goes to the love between Mack and Doyle, and the philosophy of McEmm, their families are inextricably a part of the narrative. The boys' fathers, Aunt Sawney, Nancy, and Eveline McMurrough broaden the perspective of the novel so it truly encompasses the great changes that took place on all social levels in Ireland in the space of a year.
( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
I really wanted to like Jamie O'Neill's "At Swim, Two Boys" more than I did. I can't really put on my finger on why this was such a slog for me -- perhaps it was just that I didn't particularly care for most of the characters (with the exception of MacMurrough, who was interesting enough to keep me pushing on to see what would happen to him.)

Set in Ireland in 1915, O'Neill's book is populated with gay men in the hidden places you'd find them in those times-- from creepy priest to young boys secretly in love. MacMurrough is now an ex-con, due to his predilections and now has an aunt that is hoping to somehow reform him. McMurrough changes but not the ways his aunt hopes, of course.

I liked the story as it revolved around the characters' faith (or lack of it) but overall just didn't find this to be something that I was inspired to pick up and read. This was a hard one for me to rate, so I'm sticking with three stars at this point. ( )
  amerynth | Mar 28, 2018 |
Praised as “a work of wild, vaulting ambition and achievement” by Entertainment Weekly, Jamie O’Neill’s first novel invites comparison to such literary greats as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Charles Dickens.

Set during the year preceding the Easter Uprising of 1916—Ireland’s brave but fractured revolt against British rule—At Swim, Two Boys is a tender, tragic love story and a brilliant depiction of people caught in the tide of history. Powerful and artful, and ten years in the writing, it is a masterwork from Jamie O’Neill.

Jim Mack is a naïve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son—revolutionary and blasphemous—of Mr. Mack’s old army pal. Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the nude, the two boys make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, on Easter of 1916, they will swim to the distant beacon of Muglins Rock and claim that island for themselves. All the while Mr. Mack, who has grand plans for a corner shop empire, remains unaware of the depth of the boys’ burgeoning friendship and of the changing landscape of a nation.
  JESGalway | Mar 6, 2018 |
An exquisitely written novel set in Ireland in 1915-1916. Although the writing and the Irish rhythms of the dialogue do take some time to get used to, it is well worth the initial effort. Jim Mack is an appealing main character, a shy young catholic boy with a good heart who comes into his own during the course of the novel. Doyler Doyle is a poor, rough lad of the same age, patriotic and determined to fight for Ireland. The character of MacMurrough was interesting, an older man who comes off at first as a sexual predator and one perhaps suffering from schizophrenia, but by the end of the book a much more complex and sympathetic person. I really enjoyed the passages with Jim's father Mr. Mack, a slightly dim but proud man struggling to better himself and his family. By the end you find he has a great heart -- I loved that he went to visit his former friend, Doyler's father; it was one of my favorite parts of the book. My poor description doesn't do justice to this work of literature, I'm afraid. But it's the best book I've read this year. ( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
I found it on the discount shelf at a local bookstore and decided to invest. In the beginning, I thought O'Neill was trying a bit too hard to be Joyce (and failing), but he laid off a bit after the first twenty pages or so and I stopped minding it.

Biggest factor in my giving this a three- instead of two-star review is the character MacMurrough, who started out with four different people living in his head, all opposing, who eventually came together into one voice. I totally shipped Jim/MacMurrough more than Jim/Doyle, even though you aren't supposed to. MacM. really redeemed himself in the book, which was unexpected given what you know of him in the beginning, but it was gradual and believable all the same.

But then, I always root for the upper-class man. Awful, isn't it? ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
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Epigraph
Part One 1915:

I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other's necks;

By the love of comrades.-------
Walt Whitman
Part Two 1916:
ecce abstulisti hominem de hac vita, cum vix explevisset annum in amicitia mea, suavi mihi super omnes suavitates illius vitae meae.

St. Augustine
Dedication
à Julien

mon ami, mon amour
First words
There goes Mr. Mack, cock of the town.
Quotations
'Would age forbid them?'

'Rather youth permits. The not knowing and the slowness of days. Lack of imagination may move mountains.'
I wasn’t being thick, nor mean, he wanted to say. It’s not the time for a boy to be a man. Wait till the war was over.
'Damn it all, MacMurrough, are you telling me you are an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort?'
'If you mean am I Irish, the answer is yes.'
Pleasant to swim in the rain, they say. It would lower your temperature already so the rain wouldn’t feel so cold. It would be hard getting in, you’d have to push yourself, but were you in already, that would be pleasant. That would be a freedom, to be out in the rain and not to trouble. Your trouble in your pile of clothes.
Freedom was never to be given or argued for: it might only be taken.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743222954, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:16 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Two young men, Jim, the naive, scholarly son of a Dublin shopkeeper, and Doyler, a rough working boy, struggle with issues of political, religious, and sexual identity in the year leading up to the Easter uprising of 1916.

» see all 3 descriptions

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