Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “At Swim, Two Boys” as Want to Read:
At Swim, Two Boys
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

At Swim, Two Boys

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  5,752 Ratings  ·  428 Reviews
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," tw

...more
Paperback, 643 pages
Published 2002 by Scribner (first published 2001)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Lane
Aug 30, 2007 Lane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. From first to last an amazing book. Be sure to read the first edition; later American editions omit a difficult prefatory section written in unrelentingly difficult Irish and from the perspective of a drunkard. It's not for nothing that one reviewer called O'Neill the love child of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce (can you even imagine???). It's a love story--multiple love stories, actually--set on the eve of the Easter Rebellion and as heartbreaking as anything I've ever read. Promise yourself ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 08, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2008); International Lambda Award
Shelves: ex-1001
If Russia has Leo Tolstoy and Anna Karenina, Ireland has Jamie O’Neill and At Swim, Two Boys. The milieu of Anna was Russia few decades before the Russian Revolution in 1917 that abolished the Tsarist autocracy and installed Soviet Union. O’Neill’s milieu was that of Ireland during the 1916 Easter Rising whose aim was to end the British rule and establish the Irish Republic.

The comparison does not end there. If Tolstoy has Anna and Levin as characters to illustrate or witness the transformation
...more
Kirstine
"We looked the other way. We spoke of everything but. But we’ve always known, and not saying anything now confirmed it all the more. We had found the stars, you and I. And this is given once only."

I almost quit reading this book after the first few pages. It wasn't anything about the story, it was the language. I never expected it to be so Irish, and me, having never read anything by an Irish author before, was thoroughly confused for the first 20 pages at least. And then my brain got used to th
...more
Charles
Oct 23, 2007 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An astonishing book, big and flawed and driven and filled with love and anger. I can't recommend it too highly. Other reviewers here have mentioned that it takes some getting into, but only if you don't let the ear do part of the work of reading. Listen to what O'Neill is doing with the language, the music of it certainly, but also the exactitude, the sense it creates of a world that is both our own and not our own. Fabulous. And of course it examines the ways in which gay sexuality/identity is ...more
Fabian
Sep 08, 2016 Fabian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Is it Mr. O'Neill's thesis that a novel can become more memorable than a song? In this lyrically-dense and character-driven novel, prose beautifully attempts to become lyric and vice versa: the story's universal edge gives it a gravity that's more resolute than even that of legend. The dialogue (at least in the beginning half of the tale) is positively Shakespearean. There is something so Madame Bovary, very much like Jude the Obscure about this coming-of-age drama. Sentences often contain three ...more
Gerry Burnie
Nov 28, 2010 Gerry Burnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shortly after I reviewed Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall, I received a note from author Les Brookes suggesting I read At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill [Scribner, 2002]. I took him at his word, and I am ever so happy that I did. This is an epic tale (576 pages) that has been compared to such heavyweights as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Flann O’Brien, and arguably so.

The setting is the village of Glasthule, near Dublin, Ireland, in the year 1915. Glasthule is a quintessential Irish village that
...more
Jane Seville
Apr 15, 2009 Jane Seville rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is the "Wuthering Heights" of gay-themed fiction. Among the tragically sparse population of novels about same-sex relationships that aren't relegated to the Gay Fiction section but are allowed to rub shoulders with the rest of the mainstream and literary fiction, O'Neill's book stands as a monolith among lesser pretenders.

I won't lie to you, it's not the easiest read ever. The Irish patois is very thick and at first it's slow going, but within about twenty pages I had gotten the rhythm
...more
James
Jan 15, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This very Irish novel by Jamie O'Neill was a sometimes frustrating, but ultimately wonderful book to read. The combination of a luscious prose style and interesting love story combined to provide for an enjoyable experience for this reader. The main characters came alive over the course of this long novel. However, both the difficulties I had with the dialect and confusion over the events (not being that expert in Irish history of the World War I era) detracted from my overall enjoyment. At the ...more
Sala Bim
I found this book to be beautifully written. It is a very moving and tender coming-of-age story. I didn't find it to be pretentious, or contrite, or over-the-top, nor was it bogged down by the silly, cliche plot-devises that so many modern writers are using, i.e.: immediate sex, gay-for-you, menages, cheating, melodrama, unneccessary angst...etc...I find these devices to be unimaginative, insulting, and lazy, and they simply turn me off...A good story can sell itself and that is certainly the ca ...more
agirlwithoutwingz
This is written in Irish so it was difficult to read, I couldn’t understand many parts of it but surely you’ll know it is written beautifully. However, my problem with this book was not the language, but the point of view. I can’t get use to the stream of consciousness narration, I don’t like it when I’ve read some pages without knowing who is telling me what is happening.

I enjoyed the first part of the story, Doyler and Jim’s genuine friendship and love was beautiful and promising. But regardi
...more
E. Chainey (Bookowski)
Hayrina bir yayınevi de şu güzelim konulu kitabı çevirse, wonderful olmaz mı!? ^^
Open Loop Press
Jun 07, 2009 Open Loop Press rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: interviews
In 2001 Jamie O’Neill’s novel, “At Swim, Two Boys,” was published to international acclaim. O’Neill was compared favorably with James Joyce and called the “next big thing” by critics around the globe. The story of Jim and Doyler, “At Swim, Two Boys” explores the complexity of two boys’ emerging love for each other against the backdrop of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising.

The Lancers had charged here too, it was told. There was a dead horse down the way. All about the steps, flowers were strewn and t
...more
Alicja
rating: 6/5

At its core, this is a love story. Two 16 year old boys, a college boy, Jim Mack and a laborer, Doyler Doyle, make a pact to practice swimming for a year so on Easter of 1916 (unknowingly to them a time of the Easter Rising and Irish rebellion), they will swim to a beacon of Muglins Rock. As their friendship develops, so do other, deeper feelings.

But it is also much more than a love story. Mr. Mack, Jim’s father, is a corner shopkeep who has dreams of going up in society. He also ha
...more
Raymond
Oct 28, 2009 Raymond rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now this was a good book! It's not like any of the gay novels that I've read before, and believe me, I've read quite a few. At Swim, Two boys was a little tricky to read at first because of the language. The book takes place in Ireland, and so I assume that a lot of the words that I did not understand were not words ordinarily used in the English dictionary. But it was a joy to read, anyway. The writing style was impressive, and once you get in the swing of understanding the language, it becomes ...more
Skip
Nov 29, 2007 Skip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just read this amazing novel for the second time. (I first read it some years back when the book was released.)
I was amazed of how much of the story did not make an impression then, but seemed to powerful now.
It's a story of young budding love in beautiful Ireland, but all against a world revolution, the Catholic Church, class divisions and extreme poverty.
And it's really a great story of pride, and saying love – for whomever – is okay and beautiful.
I feel as though I've just come from a tr
...more
Jim Coughenour
Jul 12, 2007 Jim Coughenour rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: justforfun
A classic love story with a few fine twists, set in 1915–1916 against the turbulence of Irish politics and society. Jamie O'Neill has been compared to both Joyce and Dickens (for his facility with language, and his comic characters). Discard any trashy notions of a "gay fiction" — think more of the austere aesthetic of "Chariots of Fire" or Mary Renalt's pathbreaking The Charioteer. Richly written, avoiding cliché, At Swim deserves all the hype it got when it was first published.

Micha
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/MacMurrou
...more
Susan Johnson
This is a beautifully written story about 2 boys coming to age in 1916-18 in a small town outside of Dublin, Ireland. It left me incredibly sad that some people are left so alone because of their sexual preferences, age, gender and other factors that they cannot change. Although it didn't resonate with me as much as did to others, it is a wonderfully written book.
julio
Jan 16, 2014 julio marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to julio by: Jas
This comes highly recommended, but you can't tell me I'm crazy for giving a blurb that compares its author to James Joyce a gimlet side-eye.
Allan
Aug 18, 2014 Allan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the second time I've read this novel, and the second time I've found it to be an amazing experience.

Set mainly in Glasthule in 1915 and 1916, the novel follows the main characters of Mr Mack and his son Jim, Mr Mack's former service colleague Doyle, and his son Doyler, Nancy, a maid in the 'big house', a member of the holy orders and priest, and the MacMurroughs, Eva, daughter of a respected Irish patriot and her nephew, Anthony, recently resident with her due to circumstances that becom
...more
Liz
Feb 13, 2016 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh, this book. This book! Atmospheric, beautiful, inspirational and above all else, AFFECTING. I sometimes struggle to articulate what I love about a certain book without writing a lengthy review and I’m trying to avoid that. I will do my best but in the end, the fact is that I cherish this story.

So why can I not stop thinking about this book? Why is it going to take me a long time to get over it? Well, mostly it’s the characters. It’s always the characters! At the center of the story are Jim a
...more
Steerpike
Apr 12, 2015 Steerpike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, gay
Oh boy, this book.

Before I start gushing, let's get it out of the way: this is not a perfect book. It's not a literary classic that will be studied in liberal arts colleges into the future. Any comparisons to Ulysses (love it or hate it) are superficial and entirely too generous (although this book does at least one thing that Joyce never could...). Its ending is predictable and cliche. Its characters, while loveable, aren't entirely believable - and the main character, Jim, is even a little fla
...more
Travispug
Jul 01, 2013 Travispug rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have another review of this book on Amazon but I'll say it again: I love this book! Sure, it's a little tricky at first to read but you catch on. The plot is set in Dublin before and during the 1916 Easter Uprising which is a plus if you know your history. But really the main catch is the love story that builds between two Irish boys-Jim and Doyler. Their dads were in the Boer war together years before. They were once best friends but now not so much ( they don't hate each other, just drifted ...more
Ray
Sep 03, 2010 Ray rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me forever to read this book. At first I was stumped by the Irish dialogue in the beginning. After about a month, I finally made it through (after starting and stopping many times) and then it was a thrill ride. Pages flew by.

And then

(SPOILER)

Jim and Doyler finally had sex.

The question of whether or not they would ever actually consummate their growing love is what gave this book momentum. And when it actually happens, almost 100 pages from the ending, it lost some umph. So I put it do
...more
Linda ~ chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny ~
DNF at 19%

The dialect is just too much for me to slog through. It's very heavy early 1900s Irish brogue and slang, both in the dialogue, which would be one thing, but also in the narrative, so it's pretty much non-stop. Every time Mr. Mack is on the page, the narrative gets choppy and random on top of that. As a result, it's slow and it's boring. The characters come across kind of flat, but that could just be because I can't figure out what they're saying half the time. Shame. I could see myself
...more
Bill
Glorious! Read the 1st 50 pages or so out loud or at least subvocalize the words to really understand what a drunkin' Irishman sounds like and means.

I'm going to re-read this, at interval, for joy and to do a review justice.
David M
Dec 06, 2015 David M rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An affront to my saturnine temper. I still prefer love stories that end all horrible/tragic (see: Book of Memories, Peter Nadas), but Jamie O'Neill makes a respectable run at happiness.
Liz
Feb 05, 2015 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books ever written. Just. Period. Completely changed my life, in so many ways, as a wee college girl figuring out her own everything. Still my favorite, always and forever.
Ada
4,1

640 pàgines i de debò que no sé ben bé què hi ha passat. Un any, una illa i molt d'amor.

Donna McCaul Thibodeau
I know that a lot of my GR friends loved this book and I expected to love it too. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. One of the reasons that I gave it three stars was because of the history that it covered. I love history, particularly Irish history and it interested me seeing how it was interwoven with the story. The problem that I had with the book is twofold. There were quite a few characters and the storyline went back and forth between them. I found it to be confusing at points. What both ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • The Charioteer
  • As Meat Loves Salt
  • The Boy I Love (The Boy I Love Trilogy, #1)
  • Dream Boy
  • Dancer from the Dance
  • The Carnivorous Lamb
  • A Son Called Gabriel
  • In the Forest
  • The Coming Storm
  • The World of Normal Boys
  • The Story of the Night
  • The Lost Language of Cranes
  • Call Me by Your Name
  • The Beautiful Room Is Empty
  • The Swimming-Pool Library
  • Whistling in the Dark
  • The Catch Trap
  • Schooling
55328
Jamie O'Neill is an Irish author, who lived and worked in England for two decades; he now lives in Gortachalla, in County Galway, Ireland. His critically-acclaimed novel, At Swim, Two Boys (2001) earned him the highest advance ever paid for an Irish novel and frequent claims that he was the natural successor to James Joyce, Flann O'Brien and Samuel Beckett.

O'Neill was born in Dún Laoghaire in 1962
...more
More about Jamie O'Neill...

Share This Book



“I’m just thinking that would be pleasant. To be reading, say, out of a book, and you to come up and touch me – my neck, say, or my knee – and I’d carry on reading, I might let a smile, no more, wouldn’t lose my place on the page. It would be pleasant to come to that. We’d come so close, do you see, that I wouldn’t be surprised out of myself every time you touched.” 37 likes
“The four cautions: Beware a woman in front of you, beware a horse behind of you, beware a cart beside of you, and beware a priest every which way.” 18 likes
More quotes…