Sunday, November 17, 2013

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill

Have just finished reading At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill.

It is set during the First World War in southern Ireland, which I suppose is what attracted me to the novel, since fiction that deals with Ireland during the Great War is unusual.  Also the book has a tremendous reputation (perhaps not wholly deserved) with reviewers comparing the author to James Joyce.  It's long (637 pages) and often I found it rambling and confusing.

It is the story of two teenage boys (obviously) over the period of a year up to the Easter rebellion in Dublin in 1916.  It deals with issues of identity, sexuality, nationalism, religion, class and legitimacy.  The ending is tragic.

There are many beautiful lines in the book, including the (comforting) sentence:  "Are they not truly the good who, desiring evil, renounce their desires?" 

There are also shocking sentiments expressed, including the savage statement of intent about the British:  "And he'd murder every last one till they were gone of his country.  That he would.  Every last one he told MacMurrough.  And still I'll kill them.  I'll kill them for fun..."  Remember that the "British" he is referring to includes English and Scottish migrants living in Ireland for hundreds of years.  Another indication perhaps that multicultural societies always break down in the end.

An interesting essay on Ireland immediately after the Great War appeared n this week's Spectator website:

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