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At Swim, Two Boys
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Previous Quarterly Reads > August-October Quarterly Irish Read 2014: At Swim, Two Boys

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 28, 2014 01:19AM) (new)

This is the discussion thread for our August-October quarterly Irish read of 2014, At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill.

I look forward to discussing this book with you all and reading your thoughts and views.

Declan. :)


Allan I read this 5 years ago and absolutely loved it-the story stayed with me for a long time after finishing.

I didn't read Strumpet City until last year, but this was the book I immediately thought of while reading Plunkett. Hopefully others in the group find that O'Neill compares favourably to the classic!

The book will make for excellent discussion given that we're in the decade of centenaries!


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

This wasn't the book I voted for, but reading that makes me glad it won out in the end, Allan.


Emma Flanagan (emma89) Fair warning this is not the easiest book to find. There's no Kindle edition, at least not in English (did find it in German) and quite expensive new. I managed to find a used edition on Amazon for 0.1c which with postage came to about €5 so I'm happy.


message 5: by Paul (new)

Paul Book depository have it for about 14 euro, a bit pricey for a book out this long but there seems to be a few second hand on amazon and other sites for about the price Emma paid


message 6: by Cathleen (new)

Cathleen | 2409 comments Luckily, I've just checked and it's available at my local library--checked out, but I'll be able to get it.


Allan I'm surprised that there is no Kindle version of the book. There are over 25 copies of different editions on Amazon UK for a penny plus postage, though, and is $5 new on Amazon US, again with a load of copies for a penny plus postage.

Hopefully the lack of Kindle copies doesn't put people off-I see that both Amazon sites have reviews of the book as positive as those on Goodreads.


message 8: by I-like-to-read (new)

I-like-to-read (akakate) Yeah, my library has a copy :-)


Emma Flanagan (emma89) Having looked at Amazon, the Book Depository and Kennys they all appeared to be selling the US edition of buying new. I wonder if the UK edition is currently out of print.

It is also in the library but they don't have many editions, some of which aren't actually available to take out, and it's not in my local branch so I'd have to I order it in which can take longer then it does for it to be delivered from Amazon, especially when there aren't many copies


Allan Theresa, I'm not sure if my edition has been edited from the original-it's the UK paperback edition from 2002-something I'll maybe need to look into by seeing if I can find a first edition!

Emma, despite being critically acclaimed on release, I'm not sure how well the book did commercially, but I do remember a lot of copies ending up in the likes of Bargain Books after release, so it maybe out of print alright now. Apparently O'Neill got £1 million advance for his next novel, which we are still waiting for!


Allan I've just bought the 2001 hardcover from World of Books for £2.81 including postage-there are loads of first editions for a penny-if this is the first edition, which the front page of my paperback would suggest...

Interestingly, the edition I bought comes up on a search on the Amazon app, but not through their mobile website-I was able to find this on the website eventually via the 'other editions' link via the paperback link.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/07432...

I've posted the basic details directly from Amazon's description below.

Product Details
Publisher:Scribner
Release date:3 Sep 2001


Allan It'll be interesting to see if there is a difference in the editions, if that's been mentioned in reviews-I'll be sure to post my findings! :)


message 13: by Elanna (new) - added it

Elanna | 31 comments I'll go to visit Charlie Byrne's tomorrow... They should have a copy or two of the original edition. Any Galway based readers with a copy to share, in case the library doesn't have one?


Allan Elanna, if you're totally stuck for a copy and you can't find a Galway reader, why not look for the writer himself lol-I read in an article from the Irish Independent that O'Neill spent a lot of his £1 million advance for his next, as yet undelivered novel, on a house in Galway...! :)


message 15: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) My copy arrived today. I'll shall be getting stuck in once I've finished Strumpet City.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Tried to get this today; €18 for a small-font, close line-spaced paperback. This will have to go on the long finger for a while.


message 17: by Serf (new)

Serf Finding it hard to get myself, even the second hand copies in amazon seem to be sold out.


Allan There's 55 used and new copies on Amazon through the link below, with many a penny plus postage.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/ol/0743...


Allan Or another 44 copies second hand in hardcover, again many a penny plus postage, or even just postage alone.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/ol/0743...


message 20: by Serf (new)

Serf Thanks Alan, I've been trying to buy those on my phone but when I click on one it won't allow me into it so it looks like it can't be bought. I'll have to try from a laptop maybe


Allan I bought the first edition hardcover a couple of weeks ago for a penny to compare the first section, which apparently had changed in future editions, to the paperback that I already had. There was no difference in each edition that I could see. I was able to get it for a penny, no problem from the second link, so it may just be your app, Seraphina.

Declan, if you want, you can have the hardcover that I picked up, as there's no point in me having two of the same book-I can bring it down to Dublin when we're down in a fortnight's time, without a problem.

I'll probably start reading this next, as I see that Susan has started reading it. :)


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

That would be great, Allan. I could pick it up while I'm buying you both coffee. Thanks a lot. :)


message 23: by Gavin (new)

Gavin (bookmad93) | 871 comments may actually need to pick this up eventually


message 24: by Susan (last edited Aug 12, 2014 12:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Susan | 4707 comments I am about 100 pages in it and it seems kind of frantic to me. There's something about the pacing that makes me a little anxious. So far, there is a drunkard who abuses his child and it appears the priest may have problems. It is making me sad. I will continue a little more but I may have to set it aside for awhile. After reading the Last Bookclub of Your Life, I have used up my sadness quota for the month. What do you think, Allan?


Allan Susan, it's been 5 years since I read it the first time, but I don't particularly remember being left with a sense of sadness. At the same time, life was hard in the tenements of Dublin at the time, as you may remember having read 'Strumpet City', so there are bound to be tough issues explored. I wonder how much my enjoyment of the novel the first time was due to my knowledge of the historical context-it'll be interesting to see, perhaps without as much context as I have, whether the novel translates well to you, or whether it ends up like another 'Troubles' quarterly read. At least you're giving it a whirl! :)

I'll be aiming to start my reread either later this evening or tomorrow, so I'll be able to comment further then...


Susan | 4707 comments Allan, I haven't read Strumpet City. Last night as I was reading in bed, I started to get an Irish version of Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer vibe. Doyle's father was very similar to Finn's father. We'll see how it goes. I have no real historical context for it and know next to nothing about the events of 1918 so it could be a real eye-opener.


Allan I'll not even mention the fact that the Rising was in 1916, Susan! ;) I'm glad that you're giving it a go anyway, and I'll do my best to catch up-be sure to fire away with any questions if you have them!


Susan | 4707 comments Wow! Color me embarrassed. It must be all the smoke.


message 29: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) I think you'd enjoy Strumpet City Susan. Though perhaps not one for you to read back to back with At Swim. SC can be depressing at times.

If you get really stuck you know the collective "wisdom" of the group will always enlighten you/confuse you more :-)


Susan | 4707 comments One thing I did want to ask is they talk about going to college. The boys were 16. Over here college is like university. You go when you graduate high school. Is it a different meaning there?


message 31: by Gavin (new)

Gavin (bookmad93) | 871 comments Susan wrote: "One thing I did want to ask is they talk about going to college. The boys were 16. Over here college is like university. You go when you graduate high school. Is it a different meaning there?"

16 is an normal enough age to be talking about college really. on average when we enter college here after completing secondary school age wise is near 17/18/19 so these chaps could be nearing the 17th birthday with only a little time left in secondary school .. ( when i started college i was 18 and 7 months but was talking about what i wanted to do there since the age of 16 due to having to choose certain subjects :)

well now a days im unsure back in 1916 going to college/university during them times was generally for middle class to upper class ( from my understanding ) , i can't give a view on the boys due to not having read the book


Allan Susan, how are you getting on with the book now? I've read about 100 pages myself today, and have to say that, while the first chapter, with the streams of conscience from the two fathers that help to set the scene, may be a little difficult for some to follow, it settles down pretty quickly into a really vivid depiction of Dublin at that time, with the sights, sounds and even smells coming across really well. I think that overall, the portrayal of the city and its inhabitants may end up possibly being even more vivid than in Strumpet City, given that, in the 21st century, certain topics can be explored that would've been taboo when Plunkett published his novel.

I have to say that I'm enjoying rereading about Mack's delusions of grandeur in particular in the early chapters. It's also very interesting to read about attitudes to the war effort in the Dublin of 1915, as this is an area that has been neglected until recent years. Your points about the cleric seemingly having ulterior motives in his interest in Jim are correct, but I doubt any Irish readers will be surprised that this issue is tackled, given the recent attitudes toward the church in the country. Similarly, I think that the effect of Doyle senior's beating of Doyle that is mentioned isn't any different than what you might read in the likes of Roddy Doyle, and would've been realistic in some instances at the time, particularly where drink was involved. I don't think, from memory, that the book is a total downer by any stretch of the imagination-it just reflects what things were like at the time.

Re the college question, the 'college' that they refer to is a grammar school, to which Jim has received a scholarship. There wasn't free secondary education at the time, and many children left school with the basics-we see that Jim receives his scholarship at 12 through the narrative, and also see how the more affluent members of the school have given him a hard time because of where he comes from.

Having read what I have so far, I'm confident that, particularly those who come from Dublin or Ireland, or have an interest in Irish history, will really enjoy this book. Now I must get back to reading a little more! :)


message 33: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) College referring to secondary school would be more plausible then university at 16. Most of the private schools in Dublin, all of which were well established by the early 20th century, are called colleges. Belvedere College, Wesley College, Castleknock College, St Endas College (Pearse's school). And most of these have long reputations of offering scholarships. Belvedere is particularly known for it, and I think is where Joyce attended.


message 34: by Gavin (new)

Gavin (bookmad93) | 871 comments ^^ thank you both for that that makes sense to me now :) see i haven't read the book if i did in the context i may have been able to make that distinction


Susan | 4707 comments Thank you for clarifying the college aspect. It makes sense to me now. I'm about 275 pages into now. I have to stop and look some things up as I am so ignorant of the events discussed.


message 36: by I-like-to-read (new)

I-like-to-read (akakate) I picked up this book from the library the other day, I picked it up to read it today and the book is sticky and some of the pages are stuck together YUCK. What do people do with library books - NO DON'T ANSWER THAT.

I'm not sure if I can read this book the thought of touching the pages is making me gag.


message 37: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) I don't think any of us would hold it against you if you didn't read it based on that description. Thats just gross.


Allan Personally, I'd ditch the library book-it really doesn't sound too pleasant! :-/

I'm now just over 200 pages in. The book has a number of interesting characters, and with one of these, MacMurrough, O'Neill pulls no punches-we're introduced to him in a particularly graphic and disturbing scene. Those who read Dream of the Celt will recognise a similar troubled personality to that of Casement, who incidentally is mentioned in the novel, and one could get the impression that MacM is actually schizophrenic. A pretty hard hitting chapter, which I hadn't remembered from my first reading funnily enough. I can understand parts of the novel like these have been troubling for Susan.

Saying that, it's not all doom and gloom, with some entertaining and funny interludes provided by Mack, as well as members of the priesthood and the holy orders in their interaction with each other. As well as this, O'Neill's portrayal of the different areas of Dublin, both rich and poor, and of places like the Forty Foot, are amazingly vivid.


Susan | 4707 comments I didn't pick up he was schizophrenic so thanks for pointing that out. I just thought he was lonely so he had conversations in his head. I read about the garden party for the band last night. That was a lot of fun.


Allan Susan, have you read any further, then? I'm about 2/3 of the way through. I'm really touched by Mack, who I have a lot of sympathy for, despite his aspirations. And poor Jim-I've just read about his fever, which follows, as you probably know, his eventful Christmas Day.

What about MacMurrough then? Have you found yourself becoming more sympathetic toward him as the book has gone on? He's a pretty complex character when it comes to the old moral compass...

I am thoroughly enjoying this reread, and definitely am of the opinion that it's a 5 star read.


Susan | 4707 comments Allan, I had to put it aside. We share our in person book club books and I just got my copy. I have to read it quickly and pass it along. Then I got three books to review but I promise to get back too. It certainly kept my attention.


Allan So, I finished this book today, and overall was as impressed with it second time around as I was on first reading.

It was interesting to see, as 1916 progressed, how the events of that year were portrayed, and how the characters were effected by them. There were brief cameos by Pearse, Connolly and Markievicz which were respectful and avoided corniness, and as far as I could see, the events themselves had historical accuracy in their geography, in how they panned out militarily and in what the local reaction to them was. Related to this, I think I'll buy the latest Lia Mills novel, 'Fallen', which deals with the same events, just to see how it compares to this one.

As for the characters, I'll wait until others finish the novel to discuss these in detail, but I feel that O'Neill was extremely successful in creating complex 3d characters, for whom it's difficult to have a sure and definite opinion of-I'll be interested to see if anyone else thinks this of the likes of Mack and MacMurrough, who generate different emotions in the reader at different times. I also felt that O'Neill's portrayal of the relationship between Jim and Doyler was beautifully sympathetic, and a matter of fact portrayal that I've rarely, if ever, seen in Irish writing.

I definitely urge those not sure as to whether they are going to read the book to give it a go. I definitely still think of it as one of the best Irish novels I've read.

Oh, and Declan, the Liberties get a couple of brief mentions! I was also entertained to find that the Shelbourne was the setting for part of the book, given my residence there next weekend! :)


message 43: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) I've just stared Whose Body? which I know is a nice short read. All going well I intend to start this by the end of the week.

Fallen looks really good. I've been meaning to pick it up. I'll be interested to see what you think of it Allan


message 44: by [deleted user] (new)

@Allan. I'll have to start it ASAP. It'll be interesting to see the Liberties is portrayed. It's sounds like a book I'd love by the sounds of it.

I'll open a spoiler thread this evening, too.


Allan Emma, I got the Mills book for £4 including postage so was happy enough to take a punt on it. I'll let you know how I find it.

Declan, the Liberties are only mentioned in the context of where army recruits hailed from, but the area does get a couple of mentions. Knowing that you enjoyed Strumpet City, I've no doubt that you'll enjoy the historical context of the novel-I'll be interested to see what you think of some of the other story threads as they develop, based on what Susan has found so far.


message 46: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Flanagan (emma89) That's good Allan. I checked the kindle version the other day and it's still £5


Allan The joys of the second hand book! It's still £12.99 new, but I find that Irish novels can often come down in price very quickly, I assume depending on their print run.


message 48: by I-like-to-read (new)

I-like-to-read (akakate) I took the book back to the library, just thinking about it makes me gag, I showed the librarian the book and just got a dirty look, I don' know why I bothered.


message 49: by Colleen (new) - added it

Colleen | 1205 comments I plan on getting to this in mid September hopefully.Fallen looks really good .Love the cover.


message 50: by I-like-to-read (new)

I-like-to-read (akakate) @ Jamie - It’s not the friendliest of libraries, if you approach one of librarians for help they point you to the self-checkout. I personally think the staff there are very scruffy and not very approachable.


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