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At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill

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Recently I read an opus on Nifty recommended by VWL. I thought one of the main characters' voice was much like that of the characters in a book I read in 2001 just after it was published. I'm rereading it now, ten plus years later. The book remains a jewel, a story of friendship, struggle, and setting small goals (in this case involving swimming). The two main characters are poor Irish lads living during WW I and through the Easter 1916 Irish uprising; they discover friendship that turns to love while helping one another define themselves. Life in a very Catholic Ireland of that time coupled with Irish nationalism and poverty made for a difficult life.

If you like Joyce, you'll like this.

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I read At Swim, Two Boys 10 years ago just after it was published. All I can say is that it shocked me. This book was published in 2002, but it was James Joice's prose on paper long after he was gone. It is his poetic words throughout.

What shocked me, and why I initially put it down, was the very difficult time that I had in understanding the Irish vernacular, the Irish history weaved throughout. But I picked it back up again last year, and I'm glad i did because it totally enveloped me in O'Neill's world. I have never read a novel before that so made me love and hate, and love again O'Neill's characters before with such passion. This is not a novel for the light heart-ed, It is truly magnificent, and I wonder why it is not on the New York Times best seller list. I guess that has to do with the fact that it has 3 gay protagonists.

I cannot recommend this novel enough to be read by every author and reader here, or for that matter by everyone on the planet. Amizon has 122 reviews of the book with an average of 4.5 out of 5.0 reviews.


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The title of the book is actually a play on an older, very famous, work, "At Swim-two-birds" by Flann OBrien.

I tried reading At Swim-two-birds Starting in September and couldn't get into it. It's supposed to be funny, tongue in cheek stuff and I can see that, but the Irishness of it defeated me. The place names alone.

But I intend to go back into it at some point (I kept it at my bedside) because I'm into things that break the narrative form and there's supposed to be a plot at some point where the novels characters start to fight with the author.

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