Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Irish Revolutionary: Author Jamie O'Neill Talks about Being Thrown out on the Streets after the Death of a Famous Love, the Decade It Took to Write at Swim, Two Boys, and Earning a Place on His Mother's Wall. (Books)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Irish Revolutionary: Author Jamie O'Neill Talks about Being Thrown out on the Streets after the Death of a Famous Love, the Decade It Took to Write at Swim, Two Boys, and Earning a Place on His Mother's Wall. (Books)

Article excerpt

Irish author Jamie O'Neill keeps making headlines. His rapturously received new novel, At Swim, Two Boys (Scribner, $28), first made a media splash in the United Kingdom when the book snagged what was reportedly the largest advance in history for a debut Irish novel. Once overseas rights and film rights were sold, the tabloids breathlessly announced, O'Neill stood to garner some $1.5 million.

"It does give you confidence," O'Neill remarks, and he's actually sincere. His stow is wonderfully rags-to-riches: He'd spent 10 years crafting At Swim--his 200,000-word epic about Ireland's 1916 Easter rebellion--while working in a psychiatric hospital. "Night Porter Strikes It Rich" was a typical headline, and amid the reporting on his no one seemed to care that of At Swim's story was the love between two teenage lads.

Sitting down to talk in New O'Neill turns out to be a genial man who can trace a word's Latin roots and quote Wilde--but insists he isn't very learned or well-read. He's more convincing when he claims no knowledge of current pop culture; questions about the in-the-works movie version of At Swim don't interest him. (The U.K. company making the film reportedly plans to cast Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot as one of the leads.) I mention the actor Jude Law as perfect for another role, and he says, "Jude Law? I don't know Jude Law. It sounds like a book in the Bible."

But At Swim, Two Boys puts to rest any notion that O'Neill is unlettered. It's a grand novel filled with allusions, a rollicking, language-rich stew bursting with delight over the friendship of uptight, well-schooled Jim Mack and the randier Doyler Doyle, a smart but poor kid with a useless dad. Doyle fools around with older men to make a little cash and fuel his campaigns against the hated British. Sweeping and ambitious, the novel does nothing less than link the love of two young men and their growing sense of a gay identity with the birth of modern Ireland.

O'Neill says he's determined that the role of gays be reflected in stories of Irish history--even if he's pessimistic about his countrymen's ability to get the point. "There's so much that could be learned from the gay experience, but they won't," he comments. "Among gays there's no division between Catholics and Protestants. They all get along and go to the same pubs and clubs. You would think someone like Sinn Fein, instead of saying, `Yeah, we'll tolerate [homosexuality],' would say, `We've got to learn from this. …

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