Kate O'Hanlon's Reviews > At Swim, Two Boys

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill
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Nov 25, 11

bookshelves: anglo-irish-lit, lgbt, historical-fiction
Read from November 22 to 25, 2011

Ireland is the old sow that eats her own farrow - Joyce

I've been staring at this review field and trying to separate how I feel about this book from how I feel about Dublin and my childhood, and Irishness but it can't be done. This review is a bit of a mess, I cannot help it, my country is confusing.


The people of Ireland, hemmed in between the British and the priests and tripped up by ill luck and our own stupid romanticized notions of ourselves. It's always what we did to our own that sticks in my craw the most. There's one particular chapter in which Mr. Mack fails to explain either masturbation or socialism to Jim that made me almost fling the book across the rooms in rage and in sorrow and frank amazement that Ireland ever managed to get out of her own way long enough to anything at all.

There's a lot to be made of the oppression of Ireland and the oppression of homosexuals by way of Ireland's willing suppression of her own people but O'Neill is quite restrained and mostly stays away from 'most oppressed people ever' territory.

O'Neill carefully handles that ambivalence of the The Easter Rising (or maybe I only say that because his views accord with my own) balancing the foolishness, the earnestness, the romanticism, the disdainfulness and the confusion. I'm not altogether sure that politics will make much sense to anyone who hasn't been raised learning about all of this. By the same token a lot of the reviews have complained about the language being difficult or (that infuriating word) pretentious, but I'm just old enough to remember when a lot of elderly Dubliners spoke like that and smiled at a lot of words or turns of phrase I hadn't heard since I was in primary school.

Anyway, for them as aren't interested in any of that there's also a really beautiful love story.
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Quotes Kate Liked

Jamie O'Neill
“Did you not look upon the world this morning and imagine it as the boy might see it? And did you not recognize the mist and the dew and the birdsong as elements not of a place or a time but of a spirit? And did you not envy the boy his spirit? For you know there can be no power over him who freely gives what another would take. Such a one has the capacity to love. Freely, naively, to say I do.”
Jamie O'Neill, At Swim, Two Boys

Jamie O'Neill
“Were Wilde's panthers grateful or rebellious? Eventually, of course, one prefers a rebellious bedfellow. But it requires a degree of gratitude to get him into bed in the first place”
Jamie O'Neill, At Swim, Two Boys


Reading Progress

11/22/2011 page 19
3.0%
11/22/2011 page 123
19.0% "Right, I've finally figured out where this is sat, and terribly embarrassed that there's a suburb in Dublin I'd never heard of. I my defense, the city is lousy with Adelaide roads."
11/22/2011 page 130
20.0% "I'm remembering now why I don;t read books about Ireland. It's impossible to avoid being so angry with the whole fecking country. Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow, indeed."
11/22/2011 page 180
27.0% "Well this is upsetting"
11/24/2011 page 344
52.0% "I really want this to have a happy ending, how many gay love stories in 1916 Dublin have happy endings? Is it lots?"
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