Customer Reviews for

At Swim, Two Boys

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

Truth and Beauty

In a genre mired by middle-aged men vainly trying to pass off their fantasies of an idealized adolescance as 'literature,' it is indeed astounding to discover a work of true art. Though not perfect and at times difficult, O'Neill's novel surpasses all expectations and d...
In a genre mired by middle-aged men vainly trying to pass off their fantasies of an idealized adolescance as 'literature,' it is indeed astounding to discover a work of true art. Though not perfect and at times difficult, O'Neill's novel surpasses all expectations and delivers a heartbreaking story of love, war, political and personal identity, tragedy and redemption. The last chapter-- and indeeed the last two pages-- are without a doubt one of the best finales in literature and well worth the effort of reaching. Heads above any of its contemporaries, the novel ranks among the finest works of Modernism (and yes, I am refering to 'Ulysses' as well as Woolf's 'The Waves' or Elliot's 'The Waste Land'). It does, at times, suffer from the stereotypical hyper-masculinity that is prevalent in gay fiction (witness Doyler's near rape of the shop boy which is instigated by Doyler's rage towards the boy for being 'soft')as well as the questionable view of women in the novel; but these concerns pale in the sheer scope of the work and its gorgeous sea of language. Bravo, Mr. O'Neill! You have done your country (both Ireland and the gay community) proud! You have given us a true work of art bearing both truth and beauty.

posted by Anonymous on July 21, 2003

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

two boys , too awful

this book is absolutely awful,it's like reading an Irish dictionary, covered with over describing of every thought this author has had in the last ten years. Try writing a story next time thats readable. I liked the premise of the story, but my gosh, the rambling in thi...
this book is absolutely awful,it's like reading an Irish dictionary, covered with over describing of every thought this author has had in the last ten years. Try writing a story next time thats readable. I liked the premise of the story, but my gosh, the rambling in this book is totally beyond description. I would not recommend this book AT ALL.

posted by Anonymous on September 9, 2002

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2003

    Truth and Beauty

    In a genre mired by middle-aged men vainly trying to pass off their fantasies of an idealized adolescance as 'literature,' it is indeed astounding to discover a work of true art. Though not perfect and at times difficult, O'Neill's novel surpasses all expectations and delivers a heartbreaking story of love, war, political and personal identity, tragedy and redemption. The last chapter-- and indeeed the last two pages-- are without a doubt one of the best finales in literature and well worth the effort of reaching. Heads above any of its contemporaries, the novel ranks among the finest works of Modernism (and yes, I am refering to 'Ulysses' as well as Woolf's 'The Waves' or Elliot's 'The Waste Land'). It does, at times, suffer from the stereotypical hyper-masculinity that is prevalent in gay fiction (witness Doyler's near rape of the shop boy which is instigated by Doyler's rage towards the boy for being 'soft')as well as the questionable view of women in the novel; but these concerns pale in the sheer scope of the work and its gorgeous sea of language. Bravo, Mr. O'Neill! You have done your country (both Ireland and the gay community) proud! You have given us a true work of art bearing both truth and beauty.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2003

    -

    One of the most brilliant books I've ever read. As mentioned below, it's the kind of book that changes your life and dominates your thoughts for ages after you've finished. The homosexual relationship between Jim and Doyler is frank and realistic, without any glossing over, and yet still one of the most beautiful I have ever encountered.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    Pal o' me heart

    Beautifully written. It left me heartbroken and hopeful all at the same time. As for the complaints about the dialect, I had no prior knowledge of the Irish dialect used, and I had no trouble at all reading this. This book starts off a bit slow, but you'll be rewarded for your troubles; this was an emotional, heart-wrenching tale.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2008

    Invigorating and stimulating, while also very sobering.

    Jamie O'Neill has written a beautiful story, full of memorable characters and encompassing emotions. This novel is not for the faint of heart and one should be well prepared to challenge themselves to complete this novel. It is a brilliant dance between history and fiction, leaving the reader both exhausted and exhilarated.<BR/> <BR/>You're sure to laugh aloud, blush, get angry and cry during the length of the book; it is just that good! Brilliant, and there is very little else to say. <BR/><BR/>Just as an aside: This story brought to life my favorite fictional character that I've read. MacEmm is the most interesting and somehow loveable person brought to life by Jamie O'Neill. Much praise from across the Pond, Mr. O'Neill.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2005

    Difficult, Though Thoroughly Rewarding

    A magnificent and magnificently crafted novel. In response to the few negative reviews here: yes, it is a difficult novel to read; neither is the language our standard contemporary American nor is the style your average beach-read. But, to be fair, would the works of Joyce (would we call 'Ulysses' much less 'Finnegan's Wake' 'readable' today?), Proust, Pynchon (excepting the language, for the most part), and on into the ranks of those considered to be the masters of the form of the novel fare any better under those strictures? It is a difficult work; however, if you really open yourself to it, you will find it rewards tenfold any efforts you make. The language, once you yield to it, is a gorgeous sea that takes you in and carries you away and does not give you up easily. The stream-of-consciousness style he employs (another homage to Joyce) renders up the beauty not only in the extraordinary but also in the ordinary and the ugliness in both the spectacular and the mundane. The characters are wonderfully written and engage your attentions and emotions as fully as your friends; they will make you laugh and cry as you celebrate and suffer with them, and you will be alternately amazed at and frustrated by their wisdom and their lack of sense. The plot draws you in until it seems more real than your own life and far more important than the trivial concerns of work, rest and nutrition. In short, this is a remarkable book. To pass it off as difficult and cumbersome or to compare it to its contemporaries with which it shares shelf space is to do both it and yourself an injustice. One can no more control the sea than one can approach the greatest works of literature with inflexible ideas of what a novel should and should not be. Art should constantly challenge our views, expand our horizons and test its own definition. If you let it be what it is and allow yourself to slip into its waters, you will discover a breathtaking work of indescribable beauty that will yield up to you pearls and gems beyond measure to which you can return again and again.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2003

    An Astonishing, Towering Achievement

    Like a life-lived, this book defies description -- except that reading it is like a life lived, several lives, full of wicked tragedy, unfairness, startling beauty, passion, and love. After diving first into the deep and beautiful prose of the book, I was swept along, and greedily read, page after page. But then as the story built, I found myself slowing down, dreading the next turn, craving the next development. I started doling the pages out to myself, 10 or 20 at a time, skipping back a lot to reread favorite passages, reading out loud more and more. Two of the 3 main characters, Doyler and James, they became my close friends. When not reading the book, it was like they were my children out of view. I wondered and worried over them. I knew nothing about the Easter Rising before reading this book. Now I feel like I know too much about it. If this book does not make you cringe and cry and laugh and shudder, I'd have to say (with all due apologies) that you must have less of a whole heart. There are images in this book that will never leave me, and always haunt me. Phrases that will resound in my mind forever I know how Doyler feels when he says 'He was pal o¿ me heart, so he was. I try not to think of him, only I can¿t get him off my mind. He¿s with me always day and night. I do see him places he¿s never been, in the middle of a crowd I see him. His face looks out from the top of a tram, a schoolboy wouldn¿t pass but I¿m thinking it¿s him. I try to make him go away, for I¿m a soldier now and I¿m under orders. But he¿s always there and I¿m desperate to hold him. I doubt I¿m a man except he¿s by me.' These characters will always be with me, always, always, always. And so I feel like, in a way, anyone who reads and loves this book, will have forever something in commmon with me. Comrades we'll be.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2002

    Pal o' my heart

    Wonderful novel. Don't be put off by trying to get the characters straight in the beginning and submerging yourself in the Irish dialect...it is worth the effort. Wonderful emotional payoff.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2014

    Very good book. Amazing story with deep characters.

    Very good book. Amazing story with deep characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Moved to tears...

    Like many other reviewers have said, the book is hard to get into at first. The language barrier is great, unless, I suspect, you have spent a great deal of time in Ireland. But once you get past this, this is a moving and touching novel. Characters that seem unimportant and uninteresting develope into moving story lines. A beautiful and tragic love story. Well worth the time. I look forward to reading it again from a Romeo and Juliet perspective, knowing in the beginning what will ultimately happen. I would recommend it to anyone.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2002

    A Compelling and Difficult Book

    This a wonderful story-which incidentally brings to the fore a loving relationship between two young Irish men in the early twentieth century in Ireland. I would not call this a "gay novel" per se because that would necessarily pigeonhole it and perhaps dissuade some readers from enjoying its many pleasures. However, the relationship that develops beteen Doyle and Jim is told in a a very straight forward and realistic manner. It keeps to the spirit of the era where there would have been no such thing then as beling labeled "gay". Nonetheless, this book will be especially rewarding for comtemporary gay readers because it places the same-sex relationship in the natural flow of historical events,i.e. the struggle for Irish independence. This is not to say that the book is not always easy to read. There are peculiarities of the Irish-English dialect (in words and word order) that will take some getting used to as are the occasional gaelic turns of phrase. The story moves on and it's pretty compelling all the way. I haven't enjoyed a good novel like this in some time. Kudos to Jamie O'Neill for bringing this touching and powerful story to light!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2002

    Profound, for me, and life changing. I know Jim and Doyler.

    I read this book at my cottage in Connemara, on holiday from the US. I dipped into the book, having found a paperback copy at a Galway bookshop, just to see where it belonged on my to-read pile. I read two pages and then went unfed and unwashed for days. This is a totally compelling story. My copy is underlined, starred, highlit, and dog-earred, and when I reached the end and read that Jamie O'Neill lives in Galway, I very nearly got in my car and drove the 45 minutes there, planning to get out and shout, Where are you? so that I could do salaams to his front door. Something interesting came out of this book for me. Aside from being a literary tour de force, which it is, undeniably, At Swim is an introduction to the deeper levels of a lifestyle-alternative that I, in my own life, have only touched upon in the most superficial ways. I found today, after reading the last page, that I have been changed profoundly by this book. I will never again look at men's love for other men in the same way. The word play in this book is a delight. The foreshadowing, the language games, the arcane references, are a chuckle-and-read-again pleasure. This is James Joyce without the agony. O'Neill is careful to clue you in to unusual words, so that your reading is not interrupted by puzzlement. He adds 'coward' to the imprecation 'quakebuttocks,' so that you do not skip a beat. This is kindly, and I don't mind his paternalism. The historical background was of great interest to me. I had finished, just before reading this book, Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry, which dealt also with the Easter Rising. This is a time in Irish history that has been writ over and over, and still commands fascination. If I must wait ten years for Jamie O'Neill's next book, so be it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2002

    A Modern Classic

    At Swim, Two Boys is a remarkable achievement that is more than worthy of all the critical praise. A moving experience for the reader that is impossible to forget.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2002

    WONDERFUL!!

    This is a beautifully told novel. I enjoyed every page. I hope there are more like it in the works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2002

    An unqualified success

    Forget the minor snipes from the critics; this is a masterful work that lives up to its considerable ambitions. O'Neill's ear for the language alone would make the book worth reading. The story is told with an odd grace that seems entirely appropriate to the times and places narrated. Even when the dialogue turns vulgar or the tale becomes unabashedly erotic, a sense of dignity and reverence for the tale seems to pervade. I was deeply moved by this book, and had trouble 'disengaging' from the 'world' it narrates. I recommended this book to my wife and my twenty-two-year-old son, and I recommend it without reservation to anyone who appreciates good novels. It's easily the best novel I've read all year.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2002

    A book you live in

    This book has gone straight into my personal top 5. It is engrossing in the way that few books manage: it's so vivid, so complex, and so warm, that while you're reading it you feel that you are living more in the world of the book than in real life. Not unlike Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, this book mixes minute interpersonal observations with an overarching political narrative, and also mixes fact and fiction seamlessly, bringing history achingly alive. Unlike Barker's crisp, no nonsense prose style, O'Neill employs a lush, musical style that alternately moves, and teases, the reader. I miss the characters as though I remember them from my own past.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2002

    Great Book!

    Read this book now! You won't be sorry! Well told and well written.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2002

    A Stunning Achievement

    Like diving from a new height, it took a few tries before I had the courage to leap headlong into this book. Once I did, the swim was thrilling. This is perhaps the most accomplished book I have ever read which happens to have a gay love story at its center. The people in this heartbreaking work are multi-dimensioned; foolish one moment and wise the next, hesitant and then fearless. Not since D.H. Lawrence have I been so moved and so turned by a novel. In the hands of this gifted author, Doyler and Jim make for the most thrilling and the most sublime gay love story of all time. Bravo.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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