At Swim, Two Boys
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At Swim, Two Boys

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  4,314 ratings  ·  322 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

Paperback, 643 pages
Published 2002 by Scribner (first published 2001)
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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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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

"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
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
Gerry Burnie
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
Open Loop Press
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
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
Jane Seville
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Un giorno noi due davanti al mare.

A lungo ho cercato questo romanzo, senza risultato, finché mi sono convinto a leggerlo in originale: devo ringraziare il caso, perché sarebbe stato un delitto leggerlo in italiano!
At Swim, Two Boys, tradotto in italiano con Due ragazzi, Dublino, il mare viene facilmente ridotto a un romanzo di formazione (omosessuale), con lo sfondo delle lotte indipendentiste irlandesi durante la prima guerra mondiale. Eppure il suo autore, con questo solo romanzo, viene consid...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
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
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


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
Jim Coughenour
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.

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.
Red Haircrow
I had mixed feelings about this book, because I'm just the sort of person who prefers to find books on my own whether it's gay fiction or not. To read and research them beforehand and decide if I wish to read them. This was a gift to me by a very old and dear Irish friend who absolutely loved it. For him, more than for the book itself, I read it. I am infinitely glad I did.

"At Swim, Two Boys" was brilliant in providing a setting and mood of this period in Irish history, and the bittersweet aspec...more
Timothy Koh
'At Swim, Two Boys' is a book I never intended to read, because it's a book I had never heard of. Nowadays, I plan my reading far in advance, ordering them online, ensuring I balance heavy reading with light, long with short. I came upon this gem of a novel whilst browsing Kinokuniya on a whim, and decided to give myself to something new. Best decision I made.

Jamie O'Neill's book is absolutely splendid. It is a grand, sweeping, yet intimate novel by an exceedingly talented author. I am still in...more
Richard Thomas
HATED this. In so many ways, I hated this. The language, I couldn't understand anything that was being said. In time, it did get easier, but was always a struggle for me. The setting, the time and place, so dull and boring, pretentious. And the predatory sexuality, men and boys. If the selling point was James Joyce, then consider me not sold from the beginning. I hate Joyce, as well as Oscar Wilde and can't read Irving Welsh as well. SO...if you love those authors, then maybe this is for you. Ce...more
Aug 04, 2009 Maren rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Joyce, Salinger & Woolf
This book was recommended to me by a friend that I assumed was way too hipster to like a book like this; I am an asshole. After a couple of weeks of trying and failing to finish absolutely every book I touched, I was so glad to find something that was perfect for a weekend and felt like cleaning my bad literary palate.

Jamie O'Neill gets compared to Joyce in the liner notes and that's somewhat true - he's Irish and writes beautifully both in and out of dialect. More importantly, he resurrects (a...more
This is not an easy read-at first the language seems difficult, but only until you realise that you have to read with your ears. Also, I know little of the Easter rebellion (ok, of Irish history in general, it must be said), but that didn't really matter once the characters had got me caught up in their lives.
O'Neill's writing is of a time and place when Catholicism, grinding poverty, and conformism were the norms; he then introduces real characters who break all the rules-a baby out of wedlock...more
Oct 22, 2011 Christin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Patty!
Recommended to Christin by: Dana
Shelves: m-m
Thank the lord I finished reading this in public and avoided another bout of sobs.

The voice took a really long time to get used to but I appreciate the effort nonetheless. And it was sexy and hot and of course I liked all the references to ancient history. (Even thought it's pretty inevitable. Greece is pretty much the only place that enthusiastically allowed male lovers.)


I was super disappointed that there was no mention of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. They're PERFECT. They were boyfriends...more
This is one of those books that builds slowly but gets better and better as you keep reading. There's true depth here and complex characters that really get under your skin. Very lyrical writing but no sugarcoating of anything; lots of heartbreaking moments.

The end, especially the last paragraph, haunted me for weeks afterwords, and I can still remember it.
Richard Rider
I read this ages ago and loved it, but I wonder whether that was because I was in a mood for wallowing in misery...?! I re-read it a few years later and found it pretty tedious as a whole, with lots of moments of genius scattered throughout. It didn't feel like it all came together as well as I remembered it, but it's been so long that I actually can't remember why I thought that. Maybe I should give it another go and pin my thoughts down properly. There aren't many books I've read twice and sti...more
A wondrous journey in words and passion, June 27, 2002

AT SWIM, TWO BOYS is one of the most innovative books to come along in years. In this massive tome, writer O'Neill shows deep respect for the intellect of his readers: getting into this book requires a lot of work to become comfortable with all the Irish terms, the style of writing, the complex history of Ireland, and just the need for a handy thesaurus. But what a poet he is! O'Neill paints 1915-1916 Ireland the way few others outside of Jam...more
Na okładce książki rzucają się w oczy dwa dumne zdania: "'Ulisses' XXI wieku. Tylko Irlandczyk mógł tak to oddać..." Pierwsze jest raczej tylko chwytem reklamowym wydawcy, choć pewne podobieństwa rzeczywiście istnieją. Akcja powieści Jamie O'Neill'a toczy się w Glasthule nad Zatoką Dublińską, a w narracji pojawiają się fragmenty stylizowane na słynny Joyce'owski 'strumień świadomości'. Natomiast drugie okładkowe stwierdzenie jest już w pełni prawdziwe.

Jest rok 1915. Trwa pierwsza wojna światowa...more
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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...
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“It was true what Jim said, this wasn’t the end but the beginning. But the wars would end one day and Jim would come then, to the island they would share. One day surely the wars would end, and Jim would come home, if only to lie broken in MacMurrough’s arms, he would come to his island home. And MacMurrough would have it built for him, brick by brick, washed by the rain and the reckless sea. In the living stream they’d swim a season. For maybe it was true that no man is an island: but he believed that two very well might be.” 13 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.” 9 likes
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