Believe the majority of great reviews and don't let the few negative reviews stop you. Those writers failed to see the tragedy and poignancy that the author so slowly and beautifully revealed. What this novel so clearly conveys is the crime against humanity that was perpetrated against gay people, who were forced to hide who they really were and were literally imprisoned if found out. Seeing the growing up gay experience through the eyes of Jim, a young teen, and also through the adult MacMurrough (who is struggling so hard to not become bitter and cruel after being imprisoned for two years for the crime of being gay) really brought home the devastation and loneliness faced by many gay people. The portrayal of the young, coming of age Jim is so beautiful and tender it's enough to make you cry.
Beautifully written. If 'Angela's Ashes' had been written by Dylan Thomas, this would have been the resultant style.
Read the hype. Not convinced. Not in the least. The prose is needlessly dense and serves to camouflage a plot that, for the most part, hinges on coincidence. So much so, that after a while, you scratch your head and say, "Really? Really?" (No spoilers, I promise.)
Paralleling the love affair of the two boys with the Easter Rebellion could have made for an exciting dual narrative, but it falls flat. First of all, it is unclear why Jim and Doyler fall in love; Doyler is too randy and Jim is too much the simp; second, the historical aspect of the novel should have been annotated (as well, there should have been a glossary) because for the ordinary reader (me) there's no way of knowing what the f____ is going on.
The ending--touted as "tragic" by several reviewers--is pure melodrama. But, then again, so is this entire book. Maybe as a film, At Swim, Two Boys would work. As a novel, it does not. Reread Les Miserable instead. Victor Hugo does it much better.
Early reviews likened Jamie O’Neill to James Joyce and promised that this book would become a classic of both Irish and Gay literature. So why, then, haven’t you heard of it? Because of the unfortunate timing of its release: September 11, 2001.
To say that I am a fan of this book would be an understatement. It floored me so completely that I abandoned the study of History and entered grad school to study Literature and Writing. I wrote my Master’s Thesis (primarily) about At Swim. That’s how much I adore it.
It’s the perfect novel.
And you must read it.
Other reviewers have noted that the first chapter or two are difficult to get into. True enough. This is because it opens with something like stream-of-consciousness, while the rhythm, idioms, and overall ‘feel’ of period Irish English can be difficult to follow initially.
Appropriate to the theme, you might think of these opening pages as learning to swim Irish English by being thrown into the water head first. If you don’t sink, you’ll swim through the rest of the story easily (though breathlessly!). Also … the stream-of-consciousness style fades after the opening, so don’t be put off by it.
I’m itching to spoil, but won’t. Still, there’s a couple things to know before reading:
1. The two boys are Gay, but it’s more than merely “Gay Love Story.” It will powerfully resonate with many Gay men, but be no less moving and gripping to those of other orientations. The themes are universal.
2. Buy Kleenex. I don’t care how cynical or hardened you are, you will weep copiously. With sorrow, but also with joy.
3. You carry your weather with you.
This seemed rather strange writing style perhaps too "Irish" to a none native , not for me.
At first I found the book difficult to get into. I couldn't understand what was going on. Was this a post-modernist device? But soon I was tracking the book and discovered it to be the best book I've read in 15 years (although recently "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet" and "Wolf Hall" have given it a run for its money in my pantheon).
With a little patience I started figuring it out. And became totally absorbed. A very moving story with many wonderful layers.
When I finished reading the book, which actually saddened me, so I decided to go back to the beginning and re-read the first two chapters -- the ones I had not understood. And I discovered they were rollickingly funny and extraordinarily deftley drawn.
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