From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
This powerful debut novel, which took Irishman O'Neill 10 years to write, has a truly exhilarating style as the author rhythmically bends language that is, at times, of his own making. It is the story of two boys--scholarly, reticent James and cocksure, poverty-stricken Doyle--and their tragic involvement in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Despite the novel's broad canvas--it tackles class, religion, and patriotism--at heart it is a deeply moving love story. James and Doyle strike up a friendship at Forty Foot, a local beach, and make plans to swim to Muglins Rock far out in Dublin Bay on Easter Sunday a year hence. As the two draw closer and eventually fall in love, they must contend with disapproval of their relationship from peers and from the church and the jealousy of upper-class Anthony MacMurrough, who has served time in jail for sexual misconduct. James plans to attend college on scholarship and become a schoolteacher, but Doyle, bitter over his own lost chances, is hell-bent on revolution. Over the many pages of his novel, O'Neill creates a stunningly vivid world ("a strange land of rainshine and sunpour") in a language all his own. (See the Read-alikes column, opposite page, for other examples of high Irish style.) Joanne Wilkinson
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Published last year in Great Britain, this novel has been compared to works by James Joyce (or Flann O'Brien, whose At Swim-Two-Birds the title plays on), but it has more in common with the film Chariots of Fire in its painterly depiction of male athleticism and relationships. The sheltered son of a pro-British shopkeeper, 16-year-old Jim develops a doting and eventually homosexual relationship with Doyler, a bright boy from an impoverished family, as the two train for an ambitious swim across Dublin Bay on Easter 1916, a date that happens to coincide with a planned Republican uprising. Both become entangled with McMurrough, scion of wealthy Irish gentry, who is back in Dublin following imprisonment in England for indecent behavior. Jim is too nave and Doyler too politically sophisticated for their years, while McMurrough is typecast as an Oscar Wilde figure. Still, these are rich characterizations, and together with the playfully rendered Irish dialect they outweigh the book's imperfections. O'Neill also offers gorgeous descriptions of the Dublin environs and remarkable details of the period. Recommended for most fiction collections. Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.