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At Swim, Two Boys
by Jamie O'Neill

Book Description
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 and a brilliant depiction of people caught in the tide of history. Powerful and artful, and ten years in the writing, it is a masterwork from Jamie O'Neill.

Jim Mack is a naÔve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son -- revolutionary and blasphemous -- of Mr. Mack's old army pal. Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the nude, the two boys make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, on Easter of 1916, they will swim to the distant beacon of Muglins Rock and claim that island for themselves. All the while Mr. Mack, who has grand plans for a corner shop empire, remains unaware of the depth of the boys' burgeoning friendship and of the changing landscape of a nation.

From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, September 15, 2004 06:56 AM Ruth asked me to post this on the 15th: Iím going to be away from my computer when itís time for the discussion to start, so Iíve written this and asked Sherry to post it for me. I read that OíNeill worked 10 years on this novel, and that he got a big advance when he found a publisher. Iím glad he did both. It really was a terrific book,I thought. And Iím glad, because I nominated it without reading it, something I donít think Iíve ever done before. I must tell you that when I started it, my heart sunk. Omigawd, is it all going to be warmed over James Joyce? How can I EVER wade thru a book this size written like this? Sheesh, Iíve nominated another clunker! But I struggled on, and low and behold not too many pages in, as most of you have discovered, Iím sure, the book takes life and begins to flow. Thereís still lots of James Joyce, but now it seems more like a homage than an imitation. (He also pays homage to Flann OíBrien, whose The Third Policeman, we read last year. At Swim, Two Birds, is the title of one of FOBís books.) I loved the liberties JON took with language. Sometimes I didnít know if he was using Irish slang or just making things up on his own, but my lack of knowledge of the words never interfered with my understanding of what was going on. Or if it did, it was only briefly. And I found the language was such fun. Altho homosexuality is at the heart of this novel, the book is far more than that. It made me think of love in general, and of loyalty, and tragedy, and history. I found myself wishing I knew more of Irish history, but Iíve yet to remedy that. However, reading this the modern troubles in Ireland became much more clear to me. I loved the character development. Mr Mack, the shopkeeper, is at first a character I thought I knew from other books, then he became more and more of himself, and more and more someone I felt sympathy for. The relationship between the two boys, and the Oscar Wilde-like McMurrough starts out simply, but grows more and more complex. And McM, who seems at first to be a shallow bird of prey, develops into a fully sympathetic character. What do you make of the intertwining of themes? Is there a parallel between the history of Ireland and the story of these two boys? What part does McM play? The father? Was anyone put off by the language? Can anyone enlighten us a bit on the history?
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, September 19, 2004 09:51 PM Ruth, I started late with this and have a ways to go yet, but I'm enjoying it immensely and will be back to discuss it with you in a few days. I've noticed quite a few folks are reading it. I'm looking forward to a really good discussion. Beej
From: Dottie Randall Date: Sunday, September 19, 2004 10:56 PM I bought this one at ABC Leuven before we left Belgium and read the first half of it earlier in the past year before my slumps and binges set in. Having reached the second half where we run into the events leading to the rising, I felt too overwhelmed at the prospect to keep reading and so didn't pick this up again until the reminder went up here. I am with Ruth in being glad O'Neill wrote this book -- and got paid well to work on it those ten years for it is a book in the line of Irish tales of legend. I am one who has fed long on Irish based novels beginning in earnest with such books as Leon Uris's Trinity and its sequel and Julia O' F-----'s No Country for Young Men and on and on. At Swim, Two Boys holds its own in all that company believe me. I may be alone in having no problem with the language at any point but then I fall into it and revel in it when the authors throw the Irish at me -- {G} -- and I think some of JON's writing was simply also language play in general especially when it came to the words of the senior Mack. Mr. Mack Malaprop I can nearly think of him. I crawled through the last several chapters from the swim to Muglins to the end of the book simply because I was delaying taking leave of these characters. I cried copiously and unabashedly at some points and got angry and put it down hard in others until I couldn't stand not knowing what was happening and went back to crawl a bit further. And I was reminded by Jim's visions of his brother (and of others later) of Blessing on the Moon and the wandering body protagonist with his head tucked neatly under one arm. A great saga and a wonderful read and -- oh yes, a wonderful love story -- of love not so much of sexuality as you point out, Ruth. Love of all names -- from the most specific to the broadest of love's definitions -- love as humans are supposed to love -- to love as one love's one's self. And to think this is told to us in a tale which begins with the Easter rising -- ill-fated as it was -- and set into the web of Irish and English anguish which has existed ever since as well as long, long before. I follow and pray now as in the past for the continued development of a true end through governing to all that was of the bloodshed over the years. Does it signify that I am here and who I am because a Scot man descended from one of King James's early 1600's implants and a native Dublin girl who fled the feuding in the early 1700's found their way via New York, New Hampshire and Vermont to a fortress on the Ohio River? And that the second generation on American soil had to fight a revolution against England as well seems doubly strange in the long perspective of generations. Perhaps that's the hold of this long history on me and a factor in my long addiction to writing which addresses the Irish and their troubles. I loved the characterizations and the descriptions were also wonderfully written. I loved the countryside as character in the closing chapters -- and God Bless Aunt Eva -- what a woman! And MacMurrough -- wherever he may be. Dottie It was a strain, with the streets so empty, to maintain any sense of urgency. It was cherry week: all along the road and down the side roads, an exotic snow had pinked the gardens. Chestnuts were new-clothed and on the tip of candling, their loose green shawls picked with cream. But mostly the trees were bare yet, affording little shelter from the weather. from At Swim, Two Boys
From: Lynn Isvik Date: Monday, September 20, 2004 01:04 AM I'm reading this, but am only about 250 pages into it right now. I think at least five of us in Chicago had it with us and were in varying stages of completion, but I don't think anyone was even halfway through yet, so this discussion may take until Christmas :) Lynn
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2004 10:52 PM Thank you for nominating this, Ruth! I had wondered who did. I am at about the same point as Lynn, but hope to make a lot more progress this weekend. Tom and I visited Ireland last summer and I was particularly fascinated with the time period portrayed in this book. I will be posting more about it soon. Barb
From: R Bavetta Date: Wednesday, September 22, 2004 01:09 AM Great note, Dottie. Good insights. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, September 22, 2004 07:40 AM I haven't read your note fully, yet, Dottie, because I'm only on page 100 or so. I'll go back to it when I finish (boy, but it's taking me a long time. My mind isn't really on books now.) Sherry
From: Dottie Randall Date: Thursday, September 23, 2004 09:24 PM Thanks, Ruth, but I didn't really say a whole lot there somehow. I've been thinking about MacMurrough and his friend Scrotes -- and the conversation on the bluff as he watches the boys swimming. That was some passage! And then in the second half -- after all that passed between the boys and himself -- his final parting with the pages and his thoughts about the conversations of the past. I loved how O'Neill tied this back onto itself. All I know is this is one haunting book -- another in a long line of them! Dottie He'd tightened his arms around her that night, and she'd put her head back under his chin and said, "I know how weird I am. I do. I'm sorry. But you know what happens? Everything just... gets to me. Everything. Even the beautiful things, they hurt. And I don't get it, I mean the whole thing. I don't get it." Elizabeth Berg, Say When
From: Lynn Isvik Date: Saturday, September 25, 2004 05:36 PM Has anyone else noticed the passages of prose that could almost read like poetry? For instance: On and on the fireworks come and into the night are falling still. Across the rift of a continent they fall, bursting in stars and fountains of light. They crackle in a thousand squibs, in mad minutes of furious joy. In metal rain they shower to rise again in scarlet flowers. Their dust like fairy dust descends, upon the brave, upon the coward. Lynn
From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, September 25, 2004 06:22 PM By gum, Lynn, that's beautiful. There's no doubt about it, Jamie O'Neill knows how to handle the language. I fell into this book as an Amazon recommendation. I've never read a review or seen it mentioned anywhere else. Was anyone else familiar with it at all before I nominated it? Is it well known and I just have my head in the cumulus? R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, September 25, 2004 06:31 PM I just did a search and found JON's home page And here's the section on At Swim, it's worth exploring. Here's a bit from JON's essay explaining the writing of At Swim "...when asked was I Irish, I would often reply, No, Iím gay. For the two identities seemed incompatible. In At Swim, Two Boys I wanted to ask that same question and answer, most affirmatively, Yes. Two Dublin boys would fall in love, and in their friendship discover their country, a country whose freedom was worth their fight." R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Dottie Randall Date: Saturday, September 25, 2004 06:43 PM Don't know about your having your head in the clouds, Ruth, but I went to Leuven and picked this one up on Bob's glowing recommendation -- so that was a while ago given that I came back to CA in Aug 2003. Thus that line in my last post -- another in a long line of haunting books -- courtesy of Bob. Now if he'd just get his butt back to CR at least once in a while! Surely he hasn't given up reading altogether -- nah. Perhaps (couldn't resist) -- he's just working too hard. Back to add -- interesting finds, Ruth, thanks. I'll go explore those. Also, I would say he succeeded brilliantly in his aim with this novel. I also meant to comment on the poetry/prose observation, Lynn, with which I whole-heartedly agree. O'Neill's use of language is simply wonderful, isn't it? Dottie Look at the trouble love brings. Look at the mess it makes. Alice Hoffman, Here On Earth
From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, September 25, 2004 07:59 PM I guess my head IS in the clouds, Dottie. I don't remember a thing about Bob's recommendation. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Ian Cragg Date: Sunday, September 26, 2004 04:12 PM I don't know about anybody else, but I really didn't feel comfortable with parts of this novel- specifically the gay encounters. Believe me, I don't have an issue with homosexuality- I'm just not used to it being presented in those terms and it threw me a bit. Which was a shame, because I thoroughly enjoyed other parts- the whole recreation of the Easter Rising and the complexity of the different factions in Ireland at the time. It's an ambitious novel which tries to do a lot of things, as well as a love letter to Irish modernism. It's worth knowing that homosexuality was illegal in the Republic into the 1980s and it took a member of the Dail to stand up and say that he was gay for attitudes to change.
From: Dottie Randall Date: Sunday, September 26, 2004 05:17 PM You know -- I'm not sure how comfortable many people are with those passages, but I believe it speaks to the issue to say that passages as heart-breakingly beautiful in the expression of the love behind the sexual encounters between the boys and between MacMurrough and his love tell us that more such writing needed to be out there for general public's knowledge long ago. More writing which put these things before us in just those terms -- same as those steamy scenes in the romance novels -- I think this may be tied to the gains in visibility of the gay community which have taken place in recent decades. After all, homosexuality is not a new thing under the sun and yet we are only recently aware and acknowledging the universality of the underlying love in such relationships. What a waste. And I know that others reading this same book, Ian, would indeed take those very sections as their reason for a continued persecution of this segment of the population. Ah we are such kind beings, we humans. Interesting indeed that bit of history you shared. As I said, it's taken us a long, long time here on this earth to scratch the surface of acceptance of gays, homosexuals, whatever terms used by the other side of the coin -- and many simply cannot make the whole of the issue fit into their narrow beliefs. I personally find it difficult to use Christ and Christianity as a refuge for anti-gay thinking because I simply can't read the biblical passages often quoted in the tone necessary for that to be their intent. But then I've always thought outside most boxes and been thought strange because I did. So -- despite your discomfort -- can you make any comment on whether or not there might be parallels between the threads of the two boys and the English/Irish troubles? I agree he drew a grand picture of the events leading to the rising -- and I've read many versions of these events over time. I felt the story of the boys and the contrast to other characterizations within the novel simply formed an overall backdrop of -- "these are who they were" -- a sort of indication that they were and are simply humans and at any given moment humans are at the center of historical events -- with all their failings and personal foibles and good intentions. I'll say it again -- this one's a haunting book! And an observation on my tagline which just hit me -- it could be a commentary on ASTB as easily as on Hoffman's story. Dottie Look at the trouble love brings. Look at the mess it makes. Alice Hoffman, Here On Earth
From: R Bavetta Date: Sunday, September 26, 2004 07:01 PM Well said, Dottie. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Friday, October 01, 2004 11:53 PM I finished reading this book during our trip out here. I loved the writing and the characters. I had a couple of pages marked to post about, but I lost the marks. I am happy to see that Lynn posted about the poetical side of the book. Some of the writing is just magical. Isn't it interesting that Jim who seemed almost too innocent to believe was not the one killed at the end? It was Doyler, the one who seemed more like a survivor than Jim, who died. Jane
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, October 03, 2004 11:10 PM I'm on page 338 and determined to finish it. I hope the discussion is still going on for a while. I know a few others are still reading it too. Beej
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Monday, October 04, 2004 01:04 AM I'm still in the swim, too. Robt
From: Ian Cragg Date: Friday, October 08, 2004 06:41 PM Thought I'd better come back and reply to the question somebody asked about the context- although I'm not an expert on Irish history, I've been to Dublin and read a fair bit about the Easter Rising, so here goes: What O'Neill captures fairly well is the broad variety of opinion on The Irish Question immediately before the Rising- for everybody who was prepared to fight for Irish independence, there was somebody who did well out of the British occupation. Some, like Mr Mack, felt themselves part of the British Empire and proud of it- after all, it covered 25% of the globe at the time. Others were prepared to take up arms, although on and off for centuries there had been a series of revolts which had been put down mercilessly; in the years running up to the Rising there were sporadic incidents of violence and killings on both sides. And others, like Madame MacMurrough's circle, were sentimentalists who dreamed of a free Ireland but weren't prepared to stick their necks out and do something about it. The immediate consequences of the Rising were a swift repression once the street fighting had died down and the execution by firing squad of the ringleaders, including Padraig Pearse who is a character in the novel (along with David Connolly- coincidentally, they both gave their names to two of the main railway stations in Dublin and are still remembered today). Several hundred prisoners were interned in Wales at former army camps while a new solution was sought. This was the Irish Free State, in territory the same as the Republic of Ireland today, but a dominion within the British Empire with the same status as Canada or Australia, a state of affairs which lasted until the creation of the Republic in the 1940s. Although the Free State was a compromise, it pleased nobody. While many leaders, including Michael Collins, thought it was the best they could hope for at the time and did at least give them control of internal affairs, many determined republicans continued to fight for a republic consisting of the whole of Ireland. This led to several years of civil war, the context of the last paragraphs of the novel. Incidentally, the question of the Irishmen who fought and died for the British Empire in two world wars remains a vexed one- the government of the Republic is reluctant to acknowledge their sacrifice and I don't believe that there is any official memorial. Ireland took a neutral stance in the Second World War and there were always rumours in England of German submarines sending men ashore in the west of Ireland to collect provisions- but they were probably just that. Thousands of Irishmen still joined the British army.
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, October 08, 2004 07:08 PM Thanks, Ian. I'm abysmally ignorant of that particular part of history. I kept feeling as I was reading that this was something I should know about. The book certainly made it come alive, though, didn't it? R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Friday, October 08, 2004 11:26 PM Thank you,Ian, for helping us with the history of the Uprising. Most of my Irish history comes from movies. Jane
From: Ian Cragg Date: Saturday, October 09, 2004 04:45 PM Actually, the Liam Neeson 'Michael Collins' probably wouldn't be bad as a bit of context.
From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, October 09, 2004 06:04 PM Is that a movie? R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Dottie Randall Date: Saturday, October 09, 2004 10:08 PM Excellent suggestion, Ian, especially since I never have had the chance to see that one. I shall look for a rental at the first opportunity. And let me add my thanks for your concise analysis of the historical aspects here -- much clearer than I could have made it as I'm too far from most of my own readings on all of it to have the details at the ready without researching. How do you think the narrative of Jim and Doyler parallels that of the events of the rising or of the overall history surrounding and following that event? Is there a bit of one boy is more like those who were leaners to the British end of things while the other was full out into the rising? And then would that one who was full into the rising be Doyler or Jim? Doyler was into it all along but in the end wasn't it Jim who was truly in the thick of the fight? He also as someone pointed out surprisingly was the survivor when the details would almost have indicated otherwise. Which of them is Ireland in this instance? Dottie -- who finds herself wishing she'd tucked At Swim, Two Boys into the luggage as the pull to return to it is strong when I start thinking of the details after reading posts here. And, BTW, has anyone else thought of On the Water in comparison to ASTB? That just popped into my head here at the moment -- two boys -- water, rowing rather than swimming and the wartime setting and details. Slender vs. hefty -- but I'd nearly equate the strength of the two tales. Look at the trouble love brings. Look at the mess it makes. Alice Hoffman, Here On Earth
From: R Bavetta Date: Sunday, October 10, 2004 12:09 AM I loved both books, too, Dottie. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Lynn Isvik Date: Sunday, October 10, 2004 09:48 AM That's an interesting comparison, Dottie. I haven't thought about On The Water in a long time, but I can see the parallels too. In addition to what you've listed, in both of them the boys had an unusually strong and enduring friendship in spite of being from different backgrounds. Lynn
From: Ian Cragg Date: Sunday, October 10, 2004 03:16 PM I think that if you want to put an allegorical interpretation on the story (and I think it's certainly written to allow that) then the point is that it took Irishmen of all classes and backgrounds to come together for Ireland to achieve its independence- the working class or the rich idealists on their own couldn't have done it. Part of what Jim represents is a section of society which had to accept that there was no political future in the British occupation, even though there may have been material rewards.
From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, October 11, 2004 09:02 PM I'm on page 454, and tho he's disappeared for awhile, I've wondered throughout the book if MacMurrough is schizophrenic. Does he really think he's conversing with Scrotes and his old Nanny? I would love to have known more about Doyler's mother. Beej
From: R Bavetta Date: Monday, October 11, 2004 11:19 PM I came to the conclusion that it was an inner dialogue with aspects of himself, Scrotes and Nanny being symbols thereof. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Dottie Randall Date: Monday, October 11, 2004 11:25 PM Possibly, Ruth, but I truly read these as real people -- and memories. Will rethink that perhaps on re-reading. Beej, I never got the impression of true schizophrenic in anything about MacM but it's interesting to consider. Ian, I'm thinking that what I said earlier is the basic reading here -- humans of all sorts are those who play out history -- and humans of all sorts give the spin to the past. Love of humankind -- one for another is our only hope and perhaps the hint that even forms of love which some of humanity may abhor or disdain or wish away hold much that is good for all of humankind. Dottie Look at the trouble love brings. Look at the mess it makes. Alice Hoffman, Here On Earth
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 01:12 AM I think I didn't make myself clear. Yes, Scrotes and Nanny were real. But it seemed to me that perhaps M had sublimated them into himself to stand for parts of his own psyche. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Dottie Randall Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 08:39 AM Nope, Ruth, I just looked back -- you were perfectly clear -- I was in a fog there. I think Nanny represented his childhood when he was more innocent, perhaps, and Scrotes was who Mac M was afterwards -- who he became (had been always in reality) -- the person whose love society could not and would not allow. I thoroughly loved the way O'Neill wrote those sections of introspection and memory to delineate MacM. Beautifully written interiorness of a being -- and aren't we all interior creations? That idea is so key in this novel and it is very obviously so -- only another reason to love this book. Dottie Look at the trouble love brings. Look at the mess it makes. Alice Hoffman, Here On Earth
From: Lynn Isvik Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 08:46 AM I thought it was interesting that Scrotes eventually disappeared and MacEmm no longer heard his voice. In fact, I noticed that Nanny Tremble(?) faded too, but not in the same kind of definitive moment. I got the feeling that it signalled a change in MacEmm, almost like he'd learned all he needed to from Scrotes in particular. When he ended up burning the papers Scotes had written, it coincided with his decision not to pursue his love/desire for Jim. Lynn
From: Dottie Randall Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 08:57 AM Lynn, I thought that was significant also. It was almost an inner integration of some sort. He could still be himself-- all of himself -- from childhood to adult -- and be homosexual? Does that make any sense at all? I also thought it was a parting with the sorrow of Scrotes loss -- a healing of the grief and an acceptance of moving forward with life once again. It was almost as though he gave Jim and Doyler to each other to have what he'd found when he had Scrotes -- and then of course he had an interlude of time of his own. Aaaah -- this book is complicated -- and full of poignant turning points, in both the personal narrative of the characters and in the historical story running alongside. The influence of what MacM learned of his aunt's life and her participation in the unfolding events certainly influenced his reentry into living, I would say. And this is all from some weeks away from it -- clear and holding. What writing. Dottie Look at the trouble love brings. Look at the mess it makes. Alice Hoffman, Here On Earth
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 11:15 AM I was googling around about this book and found this bit by O'Neill himself on ** I wrote this book, so you won't be surprised that I give it a fairly high score. Still, I think it is worth reading, from your library if not your bookshop. It's set in Dublin 1916, the time of the Rising against British rule. The main story is of two boys who find in their love for each other the country they will fight for. Other things of course happen -- it is 200,000 words long. But the question it asks, put very simply is: Is the love of Ireland so very different from loving an Irishman? The writing at times, I've been told, is quite poetic. Jamie O'Neill, Resident Scholar R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Lynn Isvik Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 12:06 PM That's an interesting piece, Ruth, and an interesting question he asks. I wonder if he would consider that question unique to the Irish or if it might apply to any country and its native sons (or daughters)? Lynn
From: Beej Connor Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 02:22 PM Do you think Scrotes and the Nanny might have represented two different types of love That MacM craved, passionate and nurturing? Beej
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 03:09 PM I think you're right, Beej. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 10:11 AM Ruth, I'm not sure I am; I think I might be off about what MacEm sought from Scrotes. I've thought about this a lot and kept going back to the passage where he burns Scrotes papers. There's something important going on in MacEm's thoughts there, something in the part where he thinks, :' What hates is madness,' and then on to, 'Who but a madman could revile this boy? (Jim.)' And, as he said, 'You had it wrong, old man, my Scrotes.' This had followed Jim's visit to MacEm, where he had sent Jim off to Doyler. Obviously, MacEm has realized a genuine, selfless love for the boy. And what about the sea? It's so prominent in this story that I think there's a definite symbolism there. But of what, exactly? I think each of the three young men in this story, as well as Aunt Eveline, holds a great deal of symbolism concerning Ireland's struggle. Beej
From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 09:25 PM A question; why was the character of Nancy included? Did she serve a purpose in this story? Was her part in it just to show that despite the passion and death of war, life still goes on and on? Has anyone here read 'At Swim-Two Birds' by Flann O'Brien? Beej
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, October 14, 2004 01:21 AM It's on my TBR list, Beej. I loved The Third Policeman. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, October 14, 2004 08:42 PM I finally finished! Yay to me! I had to return the (overdue) book to the library, but there's a line toward the end, said by MacEmm, concerning the sea. Does anyone remember what it was? Beej
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, October 17, 2004 10:11 AM I just finished too, Beej. It seems that we are on nearly the same timetable. Even though I've been wanting and wanting to finish this because I also am determined to read Tennessee Williams for CC and Bellow as our next book on the RL, I mourn the end of my acquaintance with Doyler, Jim and McM. Somewhere midway through, I faltered a bit, wondering if the book was going to limp through to the end. However, once it started more concretely on the Rising, I appreciated the essential quality of all those parts that had led up to it. And, instead of limping, it exploded into fireworks of a perfect conclusion. My biggest complaint regarding even some of my favorite books is that the author doesn't seem to know how to end it. However, in this one, it felt like O'Neill structured it all to come to that point and did so perfectly. That note from O'Neill on the website makes me think that he might not be adverse to joining us here for a bit. Do you think? I haven't been to his website yet, but when I do that, may email him. Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Friday, October 22, 2004 04:55 PM I'm on to reading Tennessee Williams and Saul Bellow, but this book is still resonating with me. I just read the article that O'Neill wrote about it that is linked on his website. This paragraph makes me think that his own affection for these characters translated into my own: Twelve years on, and the publication of At Swim, Two Boys has afforded my return to Ireland Ė a wonderful home for writers, but no country for the poor, or for the struggling. The day I finished that novel was perhaps the saddest of my life. These people, whose lives I had shared so long and so intimately, were leaving home. I sat down at my desk the next evening and tried to think what to do. Iíve been a touch lonely ever since. Also, an issue that wasn't addressed here was O'Neill's ability to convey homosexual relationships at an intimate level. A close friend of mine who is gay used to tell me that male homosexual relationships were not just copies of heterosexual ones with a few key sexual changes, that there were essential differences when both participants were male. I thought this story conveyed that sense. Since my experience with literature that is more forthright about gay relationships is woefully inadequate, I don't know how this one compares to others. Barb
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Friday, October 22, 2004 06:59 PM Iím almost at Muglin Rock but Iím swimming so slowly. Just a few chapters left until I finish the novel. Iím sort of reading it out loud, or audibly to my inner ear, if that makes sense. Then I read certain lines multiple times and ponder the images. The Irish way with words is so rich. A lot of words are new to me and many things fly over my head which makes some of the going arduous, but the rewards are worth all effort. Barb, I agree with your friend that romantic relationships between males are quite different than their heterosexual counterpart. Jamie OíNeill does a great job in presenting this. Robt
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, October 23, 2004 04:08 PM Ah, thank you, Robt, it seemed like that was an integral factor in the story. I'm also glad that you are still reading this. I keep wanting to talk about it some more. Barb
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Saturday, October 23, 2004 05:42 PM Finished! Loved it. Thanks for nominating this novel, Ruth. I'll have more to say later. Robt
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Friday, November 12, 2004 07:15 AM Googling Glastule, Ireland I discovered this photo of what the Forty Foot looks like today. The gray structure on the left is part of the Martello Tower which houses a James Joyce museum and is the setting for the opening of ULYSSES. Robt THE FORTY FOOT.JPG (26KB)
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Friday, November 12, 2004 10:22 AM Is anyone still reading AT SWIM, TWO BOYS? The ending was exceptionally moving even though I knew a tragedy was coming, made all the more powerful because of the economy of the tragic portion. Just a few sentences summed up the ruination of sweet Jimís heart and I felt the years expand between the sentences, and how impossible it was for Jim to become like the gun he from thenceforth kept with him, and yet believable, even inevitable. Such a compelling portrait of innocence and hope destroyed. I was taken with the contrast of Jimís initial clueless, giddy and fearless combat compared to the knowing, relentless bitterness of the experienced warrior he became. Itís been a while since I finished and yet these last few pages haunt me, as does the whole novel. More random thoughts. I liked how the Doyles personified the lower class, the Macks the middle class and the MacMurroughs the upper class, lending the reader social awareness of the uprising. Jamie OíNeill has his own style, with those pregnant phrases and piquant language. Ah, the Irish have a way with words. Youíre slow as a wet week, Doyler says to Jim; so many wonderful similes. I loved when Evaline MacMurrough was dining with her nephew and kept ringing for the maid (nowhere in sight) to pass her the potatoes. One so hates to reach at table, she says with aristocratic hauteur. And later she dies fighting! Jamie OíNeill makes war both insane and valiant. One canít be so quick to condemn a warrior, nor to say itís the right choice. Because of this novel my pacifism is expanded with a greater understanding and compassion for those who choose war, maybe because I can identify with the gay rebels (Doyler, Jim and MacEmm). However, I remain a pacifist. Doyler, Jim and MacMurrough are gay prototypes throughout queer writing including my own unfinished novel (to an surprisingly close degree). The rugged, sexy hunk; the sensitive, innocent beauty; the gay mentor. Brother Polycarp, the suppressed molester, is also a familiar role. As to MacMurrough's inner conversations: it makes sense in light of MacM being fresh from prison with hard labor where the men are not allowed to talk to each other, and MacMurroughís subsequent social isolation after his release. Who else could he really talk to? Aunt Eva had a very limited understanding and tolerance of his homosexuality. I see the characters corresponding to various social or psychological perspectives. The Chaplain is the disapproving, condemning voice re: homosexuality, or even sex in general, or the superego in Freudian terms; Dick is just that: male libido, the id, the embracing of his homosexual urges; and Nanny Tremble is his feminine side, a nuturing drag persona, if you will. Scrotes is the most realized and complex of MacMurroughís inner voices, probably because he had been a real personóan elderly gay friend who died in prison with whom MacM developed a clandestine communication while they were both in the prison infirmary. At one point MacMurrough is unsure if Scrotes is an imaginary voice or an actual ghost. Scrotes corresponds to the intellect, and also the mentor/scholar. I see these personas as healthy, imaginative survival tools rather than schizophrenia. Robt
From: Lynn Isvik Date: Friday, November 12, 2004 11:53 AM Thanks for those thoughts, Robert. I especially appreciated your assessment of the inner voices. It really makes a lot of sense to me. It also explains why the voices gradually went away when he had others to talk to, Jim in particular. Lynn
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, November 12, 2004 02:00 PM My thanks too, Robt. I enjoyed your comments immensely. This remarkable book will cling to me for some time. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Dottie Randall Date: Saturday, November 13, 2004 01:57 PM Robt, you asked Is anyone still reading AT SWIM, TWO BOYS? and my response was, yes, although technically I finished the book long ago. It just seems to have a semi-permanent spot in my brain since I finished it -- I find myself thinking about the characters or events or the writing -- at odd moments. Like Ruth, I think this one will remain with me for a long, long time. I know for certain that it will be one to which I return in time for another visit and I'm equally certain that when I do, I will learn something new. First, thank you for posting the photo -- brings it "home" certainly. Definitely an interesting place and as formidable as it seemed from reading the book. Secondly, wonderful remarks -- I'd been looking forward to your thoughts on the book and am not at all disappointed. I am in full agreement with your analysis of those internal conversations and their place in MacEmm's being. Thank you for your clear and thoughtful definition on these -- certainly much more coherent analysis than I was able to muster. And wasn't Aunt Evaline something else? The judgmental edge concerning MacEmm's sexuality and her great love of him -- like tectonic plates running against one another and often causing earthquakes with far reaching results. And her place in society vs. her support of the rising. God, what a woman. I especially appreciate your analysis of the sexual nuances as they fit into the society of the book -- and into society yet today in many regards -- as I guess we must admit given the state of election happenings. I do think that Nanny Tremble though was also a real person in MacEmm's life -- but I agree with your characterization of Nanny as representing his feminine sensibilities -- absolutely. Jamie O'Neill's writing soars -- I loved the example that you gave -- there were so many that the novel washed over one leaving behind a wonderfully refreshed sense that all was well in spite of the realities of the story he was telling us. What a talent. AT SWIM, TWO BOYS has a well-earned spot high on my all-time favorite reading experiences. Dottie no se puede vivir sin amar
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Saturday, November 13, 2004 06:56 PM Thank you Lynn, Ruth and Dottie. Those rocks of the Forty Foot do look scary and itís easy to see how someone could need rescuing there. I think the land mass on the right horizon is Howth, a more northern part of the Irish shoreline. I like how MacMurrough rescued a man at the Forty Foot who had prosecuted Oscar Wilde and then MacM gave him a big, deep kiss on the mouth. Take that, creep! It underscores how the oppressed have to be heroic before it is possible to be bold without punishment. In contrast, MacMurrough was unable say one word when Doyler was humiliated at Aunt Evaís fete. MacM was socially impotent, which was another incentive for him to rebel. Itís also easy to see why Mr. Mack would forbid Jim to swim at the Forty Foot in the winter when the temperature generally stays above freezing but not by much. I like how Jim immersed himself halfway on a regular basis just to keep himself acclimated and connected to his goal, but still obeyed his fatherís orders. I like the irony of Mr. Mack pushing Jim out of the house the night Nancy was giving illegitimate birth, in part, to protect the boy from the reality of birth and any embarrassing questions Jim might ask about the whole process. Then while heís out Jim has his first sexual experience. None of this lives up to the pristine expectations of Christmas, but what ever does? Dottie, youíre probably right about Nanny Tremble being a real person. MacMurrough certainly would have had a Nanny. The name Nanny Tremble evokes in me this kindly, elderly woman who trembles at loud noises and is the antithesis of physical aggression, whose power is in her ability to love. Robt
From: Dottie Randall Date: Saturday, November 13, 2004 08:17 PM On 11/13/2004 6:56:00 PM, Robert Armstrong wrote: > >Dottie, youíre probably right >about Nanny Tremble being a >real person. MacMurrough >certainly would have had a >Nanny. The name Nanny Tremble >evokes in me this kindly, >elderly woman who trembles at >loud noises and is the >antithesis of physical >aggression, whose power is in >her ability to love. > >Robt Robt -- yes, and I thought she was also a person who somehow realized/knew that MacEmm was homosexual -- perhaps only guessing or sensing -- or perhaps knowing something which even he (when a child) did not. I'm not even sure what in the book gave me this impression but I do remember having that thought. The story was so full -- on the surface -- and at so many, many other levels. Talking about it again is giving me the urge to go back and read it right away -- but I'm holding off -- too many others I want to catch up on first. Dottie no se puede vivir sin amar
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Saturday, November 13, 2004 11:02 PM Robt, Thank you for posting that photo. I can't imagine trying to swim in that sea. It must always be cold and rough. I loved your comments as well. Jane Post New Topic | Reply to: "At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill"


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