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At Swim, Two Boysby Jamie O'Neill
A New York Times Notable Book for 2002
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"The hunger for liberation...gnaws at the big heart of this young Irish writer's engrossing, often very moving debut....Excess and overstatement do crop up, but O'Neill's warm empathy with his characters, stinging dialogue, and authentic tragic vision more than compensate: altogether, his first is the best literary news out of Ireland since the maturity of Roddy Doyle." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[A] wonderful novel....[I]n this novel the cause of Ireland and the cause of gay people fuse with a complete lack of apology or embarrassment....Jamie O'Neill has written a dangerous, glorious book: the kind that is likely to make absolutely anyone cry and laugh in public places." Michael Pye, The New York Times Book Review
"This powerful debut novel...has a truly exhilarating style as the author rhythmically bends language that is, at times, of his own making....Over the many pages of his novel, O'Neill creates a stunningly vivid world in a language all his own." Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Possessing great humor and an elegiac quality that makes one mourn lost youth and poor Ireland alike, O'Neill's saga achieves a kind of richness of scope and ambition that makes one reluctant to come to its tragic and inevitable close." Robin Hemley, The Chicago Tribune
"[A] work of wild, vaulting ambition and achievement that transcends any genre label a critic might be foolish enough to impose on it....[O'Neill's] writing is rich and allusive (think Joyce, Wilde, Flann O?Brien), his language is blisteringly exuberant, and his vision is...acute enough to create one of the most psychologically accurate and moving love stories in recent literature. In short: wow. (Grade: A)" Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly
"Expressions such as 'a slice of the ignore' fill its 576 pages with a love of language that?s infectious. Slow to start but ultimately engaging, At Swim, Two Boys is as playful as it is powerful." Seattle Times
"An ambitious and absorbing novel. What elevates At Swim, Two Boys is the intensity of its central love story (an honest and moving one, whatever your orientation) and the vivid reality of the novel?s characters. There's undeniable passion and eloquence that may have many of the custodians of the Irish literary tradition spinning dizzily in their graves." Bruce Allen, The Boston Globe
"A grand novel filled with allusions, a rollicking, language-rich stew bursting with delight." Michael Giltz, The Advocate
"As a tender coming of age tale, vivid cultural portrait, and a story of courage in love and in war, this remarkable achievement lives up to its literary lineage and should establish Jamie O'Neill as a novelist of the first rank. By turns delightful and heartbreaking, At Swim, Two Boys is a breathtaking ride." Elizabeth Flynn, Lambda Book Report
"The great novel needs more than poetry and puns. It needs worthy and recognizable characters, it needs a worthy plot line, and it needs artistry in love — not only love between the characters, but love between author and characters. We have them all here, and I'm at a loss how to convey the grandeur of lively, often very funny dialogue — along with a sheer narrative beauty." Lolita Lark, RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities
"Jim is too naive 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." Library Journal
"The secret is out, James Joyce and Oscar Wilde had a child: his name is Jamie O'Neill, and his novel is a big, character-filled Edwardian triple-decker." Felice Picano, author of Like People in History
"Reading this book is like swimming itself. You have to take a deep breath first, and plunge yourself into an alien element — but as you make your way forward, it dictates quiet, ecstatic rhythms of a heightened reality. It's a book in which the full range of human passion is implied: a highly erotic love story that manages to be neither anatomically specific nor euphemistic; a narrative about politics and patriotism that avoids jingoism or sentimentality. There is a gentleness, a loveliness here that is extremely rare in modern fiction." Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
In the tradition of Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" comes a gloriously ambitious and resonant novel that transports readers to Dublin in the year preceding the Easter uprising--a pivotal time in Irish history and in the lives of two very young men from different backgrounds.
About the Author
Jamie O'Neill is the author of two previous novels, Disturbance and Kilbrack, or Who Is Nancy Valentine? He was brought up and educated in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin, then lived in England, and has now returned to Galway, in Western Ireland. For the past ten years O'Neill worked as a night porter in a London psychiatric institution while writing and researching At Swim, Two Boys.
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