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At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill

At Swim, Two Boys (2001)

by Jamie O'Neill

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1,809506,216 (4.23)129
"Set in Dublin, At Swim, Two Boys follows the year to Easter 1916, the time of Ireland's brave but fractured uprising against British rule. O'Neill tells the story of the love of two boys: Jim, a naive and reticent scholar and the younger son of the foolish aspiring shopkeeper Mr. Mack, and Doyler, the dark, rough-diamond son of Mr. Mack's old army pal. Doyler might once have made a scholar like Jim, but his folks sent him to work, and now, schoolboy no more, he hauls the parish midden cart, with socialism and revolution and willful blasphemy stuffed under his cap." "And yet the future is rose, Jim's father is sure. His elder son is away fighting the Hun for God and the British Army, and he has such plans for Jim and their corner shop empire. But Mr. Mack cannot see that the landscape is changing, nor does he realize the depth of Jim's burgeoning friendship with Doyler. Out at the Forty Foot, the great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the scandalous nude, the two boys meet day after day. There they make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, Easter 1916, they will swim the bay to the distant beacon of Muglins Rock and claim that island for themselves."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)

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English (49)  German (1)  All languages (50)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
2/9/18 Marking for reread. ( )
  Jeeps | Sep 21, 2019 |
Here is a book I wanted to like more than I did.

Don't get me wrong, At Swim, Two Boys has some stunning lines that I could already imagine on a million tumblr edits. There was a lot of potential here and it hits a market that I think is highly lacking in literature (I'm talking historical queer romance). But...


Okay so first off, this is a hard book to read. The writing is, in many ways, very sophisticated and so it takes a while to get into the rhythm of it. It's stream-of-consciousness and flips between characters without hesitation. Plus, it's Irish and full of slang and such that I am entirely unfamiliar with. So the first 50 pages or so are rough, but then things start to get easier.

Second, I didn't care for, uhhhhhhhhh, about 50% of the story. I liked Doyler and Jim. I cared about Doyler and Jim. Everything else was background, and I found myself zoning out for page after page when it wasn't focused on them.

Third, okay, the romance was pretty good. It wasn't an idealized romance: it was rough and messy and felt very real and very era-appropriate. It was sweet and sad and fulfilling and I quite enjoyed that.

And fourth.... the ending was horrible.

H o r r i b l e.

It's the kind of ending you know is going to happen because you're not an idiot, but you're hoping the author has the guts to do something different, but he doesn't. He gives you exactly what you think he'll give you, and it's entirely unsatisfying. Yawn.

500 pages that should have been 200.

And that's that. ( )
  ainjel | Jun 20, 2019 |
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 |
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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
à Julien

mon ami, mon amour
First words
There goes Mr. Mack, cock of the town.
'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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