I’m currently working on a new novel, very different from the ones that I’ve written and worked on up to this point. It feels as if I’m experimenting with some new kind of drug that makes one dizzy, I still need to get used to it. However, I don’t want to talk about that in this particular post because it would rather be a bore for you, my dear reader. What I do intend to discuss in this post is a novel I’m currently reading and, most importantly, my reaction to it, since it’s the kind of reaction that I’ve not yet experienced while reading gay-themed novels. To make the story short, the novel I’m talking about is Jamie O’Neill’s 2001 well-known novel (a gay classic, apparently) At Swim, Two Boys. Albeit rather difficult to read because of its difficult and cumbersome English mixed with Irish and odd sentence structures, O’Neill’s novel is, as The New York Times Book Review rightfully asserts, “a dangerous, glorious book”. Even more important than that, one of its accomplishments, I believe, is its capacity to get a good grip on the reader. Once you get into it, you’ll find it quite difficult to let go of the “there’s-a-war-going-on-out-there” type of romance between Jim and the pal of his heart, Doyler. Yet, I feel like the romance between the two starts to play a second part in the whole frame of things once MacMurrough is introduced the story. Now, MacMurrough is a very bizarre character to behold since he has a split personality, he’s gay, and, on top of everything, he’s suffered from the same fate as the beloved Oscar Wilde did: imprisoned for sodomy. I have not finished the novel yet, I’m still half-through it, but somehow, I’m afraid to say, MacMurrough’s madness seems more real than the rest of the novel, all that swimming, and all that boyish blush that we see in Jim every time Doyler gets too close. MacMurrough is even much more assertive when it comes to gayness. His discussions with his now imaginary friend Scrotes are illustrative in this sense. Scrotes’, and by extension MacMurrough’s, attacks against hypocrisy, are very juicy from this point of view:
Scrotes settled the papers before him, the papers restoring his donnish air. By tradition, he said, those of your station have been more than happy to conform, in public. In private, they debauched to their hearts’ content. What scruples arose they retained chaplains to resolve. Doubtless it is the way of all great families, all low families, too, in fine. The one to sink, the other to rise, and all to meet in the embracing middle. In time all will throb to the Daily Mail and all hands be raised in horror at hypocrisy.
I simply love this passage, I like it so much that I placed it as an epigraph for my newest novel, since it manages to portray the double life that we have to live in the day to day trenches of adult life. In public, we tend to conform and commit to the social order that others have prescribed for us, in private we let go and become different people, and we’re so accustomed to it that we no longer perceive it as hypocrisy. And then there the word “sodomy” repeatedly used in the novel. Somehow, it still manages to send a shiver through my spine every time I see it. Must be all that religious education taking its toll on me. Yet, MacMurrough is still gay and mentally ill. Is this association incidental?