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At Swim, Two Boys

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  8,404 ratings  ·  666 reviews
Praised as “a work of wild, vaulting ambition and achievement” by Entertainment Weekly, Jamie O’Neill’s first novel invites comparison to such literary greats as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Charles Dickens.

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
Paperback, 562 pages
Published March 4th 2003 by Scribner (first published September 1st 2001)
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Ascanio Si, il titolo è Due ragazzi, Dublino, il mare. Rizzoli

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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Sep 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Is it Mr. O'Neill's thesis really that a novel can become even 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 c ...more
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 the language, and I proceeded to read one of the most beautiful, tragic, devastating and honest books I've ever read.

The reason this book ended up on my favorites shelf, and has lodged itself so fir
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“Friend of the heart. There was something surely devotional about it, something might be holy even.”

With “At Swim Two Boys” Jamie O’Neil has written with an aching accuracy of the inklings of an emotion that one feels is forbidden. This novel really examines how friends begin to feel love and then progress to the physical stage of exploring it. It is a novel that will slam the reader with its human truths and depth of feeling.
First off, this is a very Irish novel. The text abounds with Irish la
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 30, 2007 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
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Love is love is love.

This is a coming of age story. This is a period story, a history of Ireland leading up to the Easter Rising. This is a story about class, religion, and prejudice. This is a story about gay men. This is a love story on many levels.

O'Neill gives us a story centered around two young men, one seemingly naive and sweet, the other street smart, made to grow up quickly - "pal of each others' hearts" they are. These boys are dynamic and lovable, but for me it is the complexity of t
Jane Seville
Apr 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Gerry Burnie
Nov 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Sala Bim
I found this book to be so beautifully written. It is a very moving, dense yet quiet, tender coming-of-age story of youth and friendship and love. I didn't find it to be pretentious, or contrite, or over-the-top, nor was it bogged down by the silly, cliche plot devices that so many modern writers are using, i.e.: sex, melodrama, unneccessary angst, gay-for-you, menage, cheating...etc... I find these devices to be unimaginative, insulting, and lazy, and they simply turn me off. A good story can s ...more
James Henderson
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
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
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't believe I have ever used this word before, and I'm a little shocked that I'm about to use it for a book that made its way into my hands unbidden and about which I was not very excited. I'm also shocked I'm about to use it for a work of gay fiction, a genre filled with drecky wish-fulfillment and maudlin tales of the lovelorn. There are a lot of reasons I was surprised when the word sneaked up on me midway through this novel and firmly lodged itself in my head. Ok, I am about to use the w ...more
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gay, fiction
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
Mar 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books, gblt
4 1/2 stars

More reinforcement, if more was needed, that the 1001 list has been great for exposing me to quality current (ish) literature. Especially works by authors who wouldn't necessarily come to my attention through best seller lists or word of mouth 'in' books.

At Swim, Two Boys was a very enjoyable read, grim and humourous by turns and written in a lyrical way which meshed perfectly with the casts Irish accents. It's set in 1915-1916, so just before the Easter uprising and two young Irish b
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
It's Irish. It's gay. It's got a great title. You can read it in three days. And it's not at all bad. Enjoy yourself for a change. ...more
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It takes a certain audacity to use the 1916 Easter Rising as the backdrop for a gay coming-of-age story. Luckily for us, Jamie O'Neill has audacity to spare.

The novel centers on two teenage boys: Jim Mack, a scholarship student at a Dublin prep school, and Doyler Doyle, who literally shovels shit for a living. There's also a colorful cast of supporting characters: McMurrough, a young man who recently served two years in prison for "gross indecency;" Mr. Mack, whose malapropisms are forever causi
Open Loop Press
Mar 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Fenriz Angelo
Sep 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
As the 1 star rating says "I did not like it" and...honestly i did like the story but not the execution. I know english is not my native language and that i might be potato at british english but this one has 1900's irish english i just...couldn't grasp 50% of what was said in the sentences lol, it took me a lot of time to get accustomed to it. Besides, there's this weird unannounced change of POV's and pace that doesn't make sense that makes it even worse, in one part, (view spoiler) ...more
Maria Lago
Mar 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Yes, it may be difficult to read for a non-native, but my, is this worth it! Considering I was reading it in Ireland (I have a tendency to do things like these, see The Silence of the Lambs), the setting was perfect. So, I read it slowly, albeit increasingly fascinated. And maybe for the first time ever, I did not feel like I had to choose teams in this love triangle: I genuinely like the three of them and wanted them to be happy.
My recommendation is if you have time and patience, this book wil
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Got me rendered tender by the sweetness, and the ingenuousness; the story carried itself with such sincerity, grew, and ultimately achieved that warmest of feelings: laughter through tears.

Not firsthand involved in the machinations of the national politics, the story has it's very own trajectory and objectives, which yet felt inescapably affected by their contemporary atmosphere, bringing worth great, bittersweet pathos.

The Irish syntax, with which the narrative is conducted, took initial adjust
Oct 28, 2009 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
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
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
While the language is a bit difficult to grasp - the author writes in a very distinct Irish syntax - you get used to it after the first 50 pages or so. It's absolutely worth getting through those first few pages to get to the heart of this beautifully constructed love story. It's a rare thing that I should connect so deeply with literary characters...I can only think of a few instances that I've experienced it. Jane Eyre, Jo March and Laurie, Kavalier and Clay all come to mind...and now, Jim and ...more
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Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt, read-2018
4.5 stars

[writes this through a waterfall of tears] okay so this book was not an easy one to get through. for, while it was beautifully written, it was very Irish and at times it was a bit hard to follow. in saying that though, I was blown away by how lyrical the prose was and how thought-provoking some of the conversations were. basically, even though it took awhile to get through and even though it just destroyed my heart, I am so glad that I didn't give up on this book
Aug 12, 2014 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
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
At first I thought I’d have trouble while reading this book because of its heavy Irish language however, as each chapter crossed I found myself understanding more and more the way words change or take place and how easy metaphors seemed.
This book was a master piece made by words, beautifully written and had a very genuine and realistic atmosphere that grabbed me from the first page. It was as if I was taken back in time to experience the war that held Irland at that time, and through readi
Jim Coughenour
Jul 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.

Nov 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
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What was the saddest moment in the book for you? 6 107 Jan 03, 2014 01:29AM  

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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

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61 likes · 15 comments
“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.” 67 likes
“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.” 27 likes
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