I finished *At Swim, Two Boys* two weeks ago. I started my second reading three days ago with the aim of a deeper and fuller understanding. I reached page 97 with many notes on the margins and 8 pages of longer notes (a few from JO'N himself and this forum, many googling, the rest by myself).
No book since Mary Renault's *The Charioteer* moved me so. I believe I will have Doyle, Jim and McMurrough in my heart and mind in the same way I lived years with Ralph and Laurie and still often think of them.
As I translated in Italian *The Charioteer* (still unpublished) I had great (I should say indispensable) help from the community 'maryrenaultfics' on Livejournal. So I started reading the entries at the 'fortyfoot' community, and many were of great help.
The passage at the top of page 97 (Scribner HC 2001) is telling and compelling. It closes with three lines of dialogue: ‘Are we straight so?’ - ‘Aye we're straight,’ said Jim. - ‘Straight as a rush, so we are.’ that, with the other two key phrases, is a leitmotiv of the novel. This time though Jim seems to catch its deep meaning (brotherhood, loyalty, fidelity, etc). In the preceding lines, in the description of what Jim physically feels when touched by Doyler, another essential theme of the novel (‘You're my country') is revealed in a very poetic form: Jim discovers that it's Doyler who founds his physical and spiritual identity.
86 years divide the setting of the novel (1915) from its publication date (2001) and in the meanwhile our perception of the meaning of the word ‘straight' has changed. When reading these lines we acquire simultaneously two meanings, conflicting in the chronology of use, and the outcome is paradoxical, moving and ideologically striking. I deem the resulting message is: the gender of the object of my sexual drive is immaterial to the founding of my identity.
On a much more personal front, I wonder: what's so important about the limping of a main character? why in the two novels that moved me more in the last twelve years one of the main characters limps: Laurie in *The Charioteer* and Doyler in AS,TB? Is a debility a metaphor of something else? In *The Charioteer* though Ralph, the other hero, has a debility too, Jim and McM here have not.