Siria's Reviews > At Swim, Two Boys

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill
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Feb 20, 11

bookshelves: 21st-century, historical-fiction, irish-fiction, queer-lit
Read from January 28 to February 20, 2011

By rights, this should be a pretty terrible novel. O'Neill takes all the clichés of McCourt-esque Irish fiction—nationalism, abusive priests and English officers, alcohol, grinding poverty, phonetically spelled dialect—and drops in all the references to Wilde and Reading Gaol that you would expect from a gay historical novel. But somehow he manages to pull it off—in large part because O'Neill is as keen to subvert those clichés as he is to use them. One of the main viewpoint characters, for instance, is an Irishman who can't understand why Ireland would wish to separate from the Union; his befuddlement provides a point of view from which to poke sly fun at the earnestness, the sense of inevitability, which often shrouds novels like this one.

The other big pleasure of the novel for me is how O'Neill uses language—his prose is beautiful, but used with just enough restraint that it never becomes florid or overblown. That restraint comes across to best effect in his rendering of Dublin dialect. So many writers are not capable of capturing idiomatic speech without it becoming mawkish or awkward—O'Neill has a lightness of touch needed to make the characters' speech ring true, and to make me feel terribly homesick.

This is not a perfect novel. It's got flaws, and none of the plot turns in this sprawling book come as a surprise—but I still needed some Kleenex by the end, and do not regret immersing myself in it for almost 600 pages.
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Shutterbug_iconium you seem to be quite an avid reader:)


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