Category Archives: Ireland

55th Discussion: Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Amit, Har, Jiaqi, Luke, Raj, Timmy

OPENINGo'neil - at_swim_two_boys.large

The general consensus was that we did not like this book. Raj did not manage to finish the book (a first time for everything!) and felt that it was draggy, which Aaron and Alexius agreed. The latter also felt that the drama was outdated, with the scenes being too long and equated it as a “Hong Kong TVB drama.” Jiaqi felt that the book was a tough read, to which Har agreed, saying that it was not an immediate appreciation. Aaron further added that the storyline felt childish and amateurish.

THEMES AND CHARACTERS

Aaron brought up the quote by Aunt Nancy: “All Love Does Ever Rightly Show Humanity Our Tenderness.” Timmy philosophized that despite the war, humans are still capable to love, whereas Jiaqi thought the quote as just another quote. Aaron opined that it tied in with the theme of story – of love, humanity and tenderness. Raj equated Aldershot (taking the first letters) as a gay town.

We talked about Mr Mack, whom Raj thought of as an opportunist, leeching off the aunt. Both Har and Jiaqi shared a love-hate relationship with the character, not liking him because he was a control freak but subsequently liking him when he started showing sympathy and understanding towards Jim.  Alexius viewed him as “a big strategist,” while Aaron thought of Mr Mack as a comical character.

In comparing Jim & Doyler’s relationship and Mr Mack & Doyler’s relationship, Alexius commented that “Jim was not his father” and thus, their relationships were dissimilar. The biggest difference between the two was that Jim and Doyler had sex with each other, while Mr Mack and Doyler’s maintained only friendly decorum. Aaron then asked whether was it better to be in first generation (Mr Mack & D’s father = friends) or the second generation (J & D = fucking), to which Raj answered the second gen, while Har felt the first gen had the better ending.

MacMurrough the schizophrenic was then discussed. Alexius viewed him as a lonely person who created the imaginary friend as his companion. Jiaqi disagreed, as he felt that MacMurrough could differentiate and instead perceived him as a conflicted character who struggled with being gay. Aaron brought up about the voices that disappeared in the second half of the book, which he observed as MacMurrough’s transformation from self-hatred to love, thanks to Jim. Har thought that the voices were akin to his subconscious.

Everyone had differing views of MacMurrough’s relationships with Jim and Doyler. Jiaqi reckoned that MacMurrough loved J and wanted him to be happy, while being physically attracted to D. Aaron viewed M and J’s relationship as one of pure love, while D has a lot of sex with him. At the other end of the spectrum, Har felt that the relationship with J was purely platonic, while it was romantic when he was with D.

Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two BoysDoyler’s rape was brought up as well as what happened that made MacMurrough feel that he was not in control. Timmy quipped that it was because D was a power bottom, while Jiaqi opined that M needed D more than vice-versa.

We also discussed at length MacMurrough’s encounters with his 10-year-old self.

Everyone gushed about the washerwoman, and her initial introduction in the book. Unanimously, everyone agreed that she symbolized Ireland – the motherland that nurtures you (Jiaqi) and someone who is associated with patriotism, land and nature (Aaron). Raj saw her as a simple country folk who enjoy the simple things in life.

Aaron then brought specific examples (the 300 Spartans, the Irish Oscar Wilde exchange, Jim’s internalization of the soldier’s speech as his love for Doyler) and suggested that the author was trying to associate Ireland with homosexuality, which drew a negative reaction from Jiaqi, who felt that it was more about identity as opposed to homosexuality, and zero responses from the rest.

The women characters were then brought up. Har saw Eva as a revolutionist; an independent and modern character who embodied the fighting spirit, though ultimately she was forgettable. Aaron felt that she was the weakest character and was written as a fag hag, while Alexius imagined her as a “menopausal butch who transformed into Mother Theresa” towards the end of the book. Jiaqi was favourable towards her, who thought that she was well portrayed and had a few funny moments. Raj thought of her as elite

As for Nancy, Jiaqi felt that she was only a minor character in the book, while Aaron saw her as a motherly figure who was nurturing towards everyone.

And none for Sawney.

When asked whether the book was reductive towards the other gender, Har succinctly described that the book was not a feminist book.

We talked about the ending and questioned whether it was a happy or sad one. Both Har and Alexius viewed it as a happy ending, because “they finally met in the end” (Har) and “(the book) finally ended” (Alexius). Jiaqi, however, thought it was a sad ending as the main characters died. Amit thought it was a predictable end, as “everyone knows there won’t be a happy ending” whereas Aaron felt that the ending was “appropriate.”

FAVOURITES

Characters

Raj liked Sawney, the insightful butch with a beard.

Alex picked Gordie, whom he viewed as not a minor character.

Jiaqi and Aaron had their JLo references, with the former’s favourite character being Doyler as he “felt like a real person” while the latter selected MacMurrough due to his struggles in defining himself.

Scenes

Alexius thought there were no memorable scenes in the book, though he brought up the one of the priest molesting Jim.

Jiaqi, Raj and Aaron were unanimous in picking the realization that MacMurrough’s washerwoman was Doyler’s mother as their favourite scene(s), with Raj describing it as funny and one that is of “self-irony.”

LAST WORDS

Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two BoysIn rounding up the discussion, we went around asking for something positive of the book. Raj promised to finish reading it, even though the pdf version gave him headaches. Amit thought it was romantic of the author to continue working on the book to 600+ pages, as opposed to taking the quick way out and cut it short. Jiaqi thought it was a good book and themes were very well done. Har, probably the only fanboy of the book, said that it was touching and “made him cry a lot.” He also commented that the writing technique was “very Irish and filled with proses.”

Alex commented that given the size of the book, one can use it to train the bicep. He further added that the author’s sleeve photo portrayed him accurately (read: a psychopath). Timmy added on to Alex’s quip by joking that the book can also be used as paperweight and/or killer litter.

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Filed under Class, Classics, Colonialism, Disability, Family, Gay, Ireland, Love, Post-Colonialism, War

46th Discussion: Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Dream of the Celt

First off: to the two guys who arrived at the destination, called Raj, and yet did not manage to join us for the book club – please do attend May’s discussion. How long does it take to park a car, anyway? 😉

Aaron gallivanted to Jakarta, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves. Props to Raj for both the food and moderating! Thank you to Joshua, Glenn, Ernest, and Luke for being there and warm welcomes to Edwin and Edwina (no, they are not related neither are they together) for their first times to QBC. Raj quipped that he didn’t know what to serve in accordance to the book’s theme, so he prepared crab sandwiches, cheese and potato sandwiches, cocktail sausages, and baby carrots.

In keeping with last month’s resolution, we started off by asking what you liked about the book.The Dream of the Celt Edwina thought that the author covered various kinds of discriminations in the book and that everything was so factual that it made her read up on history and war, particularly the Irish independent movement. Joshua concurred, saying that the idea(s) for the book were well researched, particularly in geographical terms. He thought that the book developed at a good pace and not “fictionally chaotic.” Raj appreciated the extensive research done for the book too, as well as how Llosa didn’t portray the British and Irish as being the superior races.

The first point discussed was Roger’s portrayal as a hero. Edwina said that Roger was painted in a sympathetic light, though ultimately his “sexual deviance” became his downfall. Raj questioned whether the author was biased in doing (the heroic portrayal). Joshua disagreed, stating that it was a realistic portrayal, allowing Roger to develop empathy. He thought of Roger not as a singular character who saved the day; there were others and situations that helped him out along the way. Ernest saw a brittle hardness in Roger, who was initially naiveté and stuck to his principles.

Roger’s personality deficits were then talked about. Raj was astonished that he was not willing to be forward with/for his own pleasures. We concluded that Roger may have been politically introverted.

We moved on to colonialism, with Raj asking if Llosa and the book were for or against it. Edwina felt that they were against the notion, stating that the book’s themes were “more textured,” capitalism is mixed and colonialism is wide. Joshua shared with us the statistics that 75% was against colonialism and 20% was for it (what happened to the 5%?). “If Roger was so against it, why work in Africa?” Raj inquired. Joshua guessed that it could be due to his father. Edwina quipped that it may be his way of taming the savages.

In terms of racism, Edwina found it amusing that there was limited description of the natives, and then asked if it was because of Western perceptions.

Of course, as with every (gay?) book and/or discussion, religion was brought into the fold. We questioned whether Anglicans were seen as God, and Catholicism was anti-colonialism. Edwina thought that Llosa offered a charitable description of “the organization”, though she was unsure if that should be perceived as anti-colonialism. Ernest shared a dark observation with the rest of the group: “In Congo, everybody is evil. Who is left that is good? The religious people.” Edwina helpfully concluded that the religious people were the “souls” of the book. Raj thought the book was pro-Catholic…

…Which brought us to the next point: Catholicism being a gay man’s religion. Edwina thought the notion is bizarre, although perhaps it does make sense. She then shared about how priesthood is the only way to celibacy, and “is the easy route (German) gay men take to atone their sins.”

“If he had done something with the boys, would your opinions of Roger change?” asked Raj. Joshua said yes, and said that it would be a clichéd stereotype. Edwina thought the entire scene/exchange reminded her of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Among other things we briefly touched on were mothers and sons (Edwina equated mother to motherland, as in Ireland), the sheriff and the son, and of course the sex scenes, which everyone wholeheartedly agreed that they were disappointing, to say the least. Edwina found them tame, Joshua thought they were too short to be called “sex scenes”, and Raj just found them off-putting.

We concluded the book discussion by asking for everyone’s last words. Ernest, who only managed to read three chapters of the book, vehemently said he would not bother to finish the book as he found it too long drawn out and dry. Glenn (who only made it past the first chapter), however, would continue reading it as the references found in the book made it seem interesting. Edwin said he would read the book too. El sueño del celta, the original version of the book.Edwina felt that the portrayals of colonialism, religion, and race were interesting, but when it came to homosexuality, it was too one-sided. Joshua enjoyed the development of patriotism in the book and the flip-flopping of the narratives, although he felt that Llosa’s writing style was “not beautiful and historically accurate”. Language-wise, it was not captivating to him, which surprised him. We deduced that it could be due to the translation rather than Llosa himself. Raj slammed the book, saying that he hated it and found it a horrible crap. “Nothing in the book was portrayed nicely!” he bitched.

In the end, as opposed to the title, it was a nightmare to read the book.

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Filed under Africa, Class, Colonialism, Congo, Family, Gay, Historical, Ireland, Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru, Politics, Race, Religion, Spain, War

19th Discussion: Colm Toibin’s Mothers and Sons (20 Apr 2011)

Book club started off with three members having lukewarm responses to the book (Raj: “no new material and no excitement in the stories”; Timmy: “repressed emotions not expressed, painful”; and Nicole: “repeated themes”). On the other hand, Alex liked the 2.5 stories he read and Aaron claimed it is the best book the book club has done. They adored the style, a “surface” writing that brings out the depth of emotions; and the complexity of characters, neither condemning nor apotheosizing them.

1. “A Song”: Alex’s fav. Alex reasoned that the lack of climax in the story mirrors real life. He also found the relationship of the mother and son heartbreaking: they probably think of each other over the years yet they do not want to break the silence.

2. “Use of Reason”: Raj’s fav. because of the realism. Nicole noted the theme of violence that adds to the realism. Timmy noted the lack of father figure in the book, except for the nameless narrator in this story. (We didn’t talk about the significance of the anonymity.) Nicole brought out how emotionally detached the character is and Aaron linked the points together: the character is stoic because of the death of his brother, Billy, which his mother points out in one of the rare moments of her sobriety. That’s why only after what the mother says does he have an epiphany, to burn the stolen paintings. Burning, Timmy suggested, is a way of letting go.

3. “A Journey”: Nicole’s fav. Nicole pointed out how empowered the mothers in the stories are. She also notes the helplessness of the son, incapacitated by his depression.

4. Timmy and Raj, on hearing about power women, talked about “A Summer Job.” They had an impression of the mother pushing her son to her mother although, Raj pointed out, the ending is ambiguous. Do we truly understand the son?

5. Another powerful mother figure is “Name of the Game,” Timmy’s favorite. He enjoyed how a strong, independent single mother rises against all odds to provide for her family. Alex kept having an impression that the single mother has to fend off advances from men; at any moment, Alex expected the mother to “suck dick,” which she doesn’t. Aaron didn’t like how the daughters aren’t developed properly as characters. Raj stood up for the son in the story: how could the mother sell away the family business? While agreeing with Raj, Nicole and Aaron batted for the other team: Nicole said perhaps the mother doesn’t want her son to follow in his father’s footsteps while Aaron commented that the mother has her own life to lead, a life without prejudice from the town people, and besides the son is too young to know any better. We all agreed it is a nasty business altogether.

6. “A Long Winter”: Aaron’s fav. He liked the sexy scene of the policeman and Miquel, a scene which Timmy calls “eye-fucking.” Aaron argued that there is an incestuous element in Miquel’s love for his mother, evident in how he smells her underwear. The rest of the members disagreed. Aaron then went on to strengthen his incest point, by pointing out Manolo, the manservant, is a stand-in for Miquel’s mother, and Miquel has desires for Manolo, although the manservant is asexual. When talking about the ending, Aaron couldn’t fathom why the father-son duo hates the vultures so much and Nicole elucidated that the vultures are metaphors of the town people, feeding on gossip. Small-town gossip seems to be the running theme in the book, besides mother-son relationships and Catholicism.

7. “Three Friends.” This will probably be Alex’s favorite had he read this. Nicole points out that the rave party is cathartic for Fergus, for him to lose himself in spite of his grief. Aaron wondered aloud if it is because of the mother’s death that allows Fergus to enter a relationship or if it is because Mick sees Fergus’s in a different light at the funeral? Either answer seems probable.

8. “A Priest in the Family” is a crowdpleaser, we all loved it. Timmy thought that the initial suspense is that the priest wants to propose to the mother. Raj suggested that the mother keeps delaying the meeting with the priest because she already knows; mothers always know. Aaron pointed out how complex this mother is: she dislikes her son’s behavior yet she stands by him. Timmy continued that in these 9 stories, no matter if you despise or dislike the mothers, they are always there, and always true, and they are neither good nor bad, just making the best out of a bad situation. Raj noted that in all the stories, even though mothers may not be prominently featured, their presence is always felt and is pivotal.

We didn’t booze because Isaac wasn’t around. Special thanks to Raj for his cocktail and tea!

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