At Swim, Two Boys

I read this novel by Jamie O’Neill back in 2002 and the commemoration events in Dublin this weekend reminded me of it… and reminded me that I loved it so much.

blogTwoBoysThe novel is set in Dublin before and during the Easter Rising of 1916.  At its heart is the story of two boys, Jim and Doyler, and their emerging sexuality.  Their attraction for each other grows while events around them prove to be dramatic for Ireland.  Doyler promises to teach Jim to swim with the aim of swimming to a small island called Muglin’s rock to lay claim to it.  The intention is to do this in a year’s time, which will make it Easter Sunday 1916.

Also important to the novel is the nephew of Eveline MacMurrough, a staunch republican. We discover that Anthony MacMurrough is in disgrace, having served a prison term in England for homosexual acts.  His intention is to stay clear of politics but his aunt sees a way for him to redeem himself in the eyes of society.  He cannot clear his head of his former lover who provides an internal monologue, commenting on the choices MacMurrough makes in his new life.

The story is one of identity; the boys as well as their country are struggling to be free. The extent to which the emerging Ireland will allow its sons to show their true feelings for each other is hinted at through the ending. Just as they look to be reunited events get in the way. Interestingly, in the depiction of Irish nationalism, we see socialists as well as traditionalists with each boy and MacMurrough taking a different path in the struggle.

‘At Swim, Two Boys’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


The Museum of Curiosity

This radio programme from the BBC is one I make a point of listening to, regardless of what else I need to do.  The format is simple but highly effective.  Three guests are invited to  suggest an exhibit for inclusion in the virtual museum.  John Lloyd presides with a different comedian per series at his side acting as the curator.

The mix of guests makes a difference.  As with all BBC panel shows, there is the usual line up of comedians who have made an appearance.  Of more interest, though, are the scientists, authors, historians and other academics who also appear.

There  standard format is comforting.  Each programme is divided into two parts: in the first John Lloyd interviews the guests and draws out interesting information about their careers; part two is when the guests make their donation and explain why they are presenting it for inclusion in the museum.  Unlike other panel games, all donations are accepted so the guest does not have to convince the curator.  The energy comes from the interaction between all three guests, everyone has something to say about the other contributions.

Of most interest to me are the exhibits which could not possible be placed in a physical museum: the singer Suggs donated The Great Exhibition; Richard Herring suggested Rasputin; Sandy Toksvig donated the alphabet; and Jo Brand put in childhood.


‘The Museum of Curiosity’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The Incarnations

I loved the novel ‘The Orientalist and the Ghost’ by Susan Barker when I read it last year so I was keen to read her latest, published in 2015. ‘The Incarnations’ has a central spine of a story concerning taxi driver Wang and his relationships with members of his family including his wife and daughter and father and step- mother.  Someone is leaving him strange messages in the form of written stories, though, and through these stories we learn a lot about Chinese history.

BlogIncarnationsWe know a few things from the start: Wang has fallen into the job of taxi driver and life is a bit of an effort for him; his relationships are all fraught; his early promise has not been realised.  The messages discomfort him, not only because he doesn’t know who sent them but because they claim an intimacy he rejects.

Each ‘story’ told within the novel comes from a different era.  We go from the Tang dynasty to the upheaval of the cultural revolution in the 60s.  Each story is also about two people, how they meet and how they part.  As the writer suggests to Driver Wang, he is one of the two.  The writer is the other!

Finding out who the writer is occupies Wang’s time and contributes to his feelings of victim hood and, just like Wang, the reader is left guessing until the end.  My knowledge of Chinese history needs increasing but the novel was engaging.  I admire Susan Barker’s ambition and look forward to her next book.


Seven Days: Friday to Sunday

This is the second of a pair of films in the week long romance between two High School boys.  Actually it is a case of ‘is it or isn’t it?’ a romance since the central conceit is that one boy, Shino, asks out the younger but popular Seryo on a date.  School legend has it that Seryo only dates girls for a week, accepting any offer on a Monday but ending the arrangement on a Sunday.

What made the film (and its companion) interesting to me is the idea that two boys could fall in love without having had any previous indication that they were gay.  This, I suppose, is where the Q comes in to the acronym LGBTQ.  I had never been convinced by the idea of that Q.  In my experience, the sense of otherness that many gay people feel is there long before any outward expression of sexuality becomes an issue.  Yet, here we have two boys who date each other, partly out of fun and partly out of a sense of adventure.

As the week progresses, their feelings for each other grow stronger so that  by the time we reach Friday, the point where this film picks up the story, both boys expect the other to end things.


Love is where it falls, so I am not sceptical about the storyline.  Why wouldn’t feelings grow through getting to know somebody?  A limiting factor of both films, though, is the interior monologue being shared as voice overs.  This probably worked better in the original manga. However, this blog is a positive place;  no one wants negative things in their hinterland.  The film shows two young men whose feelings grow to the point where they want to start a proper relationship.  It is worth watching to see them grow closer together.

Takeshi Yokoi directed the film with Tomoki Hirose as Seryo and James Takeshi Yamada as Shino.  It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


Seven Days: Monday to Thursday

Before I record my views on this film from Japan, which was based on a famous manga, I need to explain why it has changed my thinking despite being a reasonably fine film rather than being a great one.

Films that explore the gay experience, particularly those that feature younger people coming to terms with their sexuality usually resonate with me.  I am a keen supporter of LGBT rights and will stand up for these rights in a public way when necessary.  I noticed that a Q appeared on this acronym a few years ago but only in some places.  The Q stands for ‘questioning’, as in ‘not sure’ I suppose.  Now I had a problem with that Q.   Why is it needed?  I understand that for gay people reaching a point of self- acceptance comes after a process but, I believed that deep down gay people knew they were gay.  The process is one of coming to terms.  That Q suggests that there is an element of surprise when a person comes out.  Frankly, I didn’t think the Q was needed.

This film may have changed my mind!

‘Seven Days: Monday to Thursday’ is the first of two films (and there are no prizes for guessing the title of the second one!) which deals with one week in the lives of two high school boys in Japan.

As in so many Japanese films based on manga you have to accept the central premise.  In this case it is that Toji Seryo, a student, dates girls for one week.  At the end of the week he ends the relationship and moves on.  Putting to one side the fact that most girls with self- respect would give him a wide berth on any given Monday, the whole school knows that this is how he operates and many girls seem to have treasured ‘their week’ with him.

Into this story comes Yuzuru Shino, a student who is two years older.  He knows of Seryo’s reputation and is intrigued that the younger boy has such magnetism.  Having been given a character analysis by his friend who also told him about her treasured week with Seryo, he finds himself next to the object of everyone’s affections outside the school gate.

Shino asks Seryo to date him.  It is said half in jest, in the way that would allow the person asking to retreat behind the idea that it was just a joke.  Seryo agrees and their week begins.  They are awkward at first, why wouldn’t they be?  Yet, as the days move to mid-week, Shino asserts his right to Seryo’s time, they are dating after all!  The younger boy, meanwhile, is conflicted when his feelings for Shino grow.  All the messages suggest that this is a joke on Shino’s part and they are bound to part on Sunday.  Afraid of being hurt, both boys skirt around each other and fail to share their feelings honestly with each other.

The story continues in a second film covering Friday to Sunday.

The Gift of Rain

Philip Hutton feels disconnected from his family.  His Chinese mother was his British father’s second wife and his brothers and sister were all offspring from his father’s first wife, also British.  They live in Malaya in the period leading up to the Second World.  Noel Hutton, twice widowed, is the head of a trading company started int he glory days of the British Empire.  But these are turbulent times and war is on the horizon.

Tan Twang Eng’s novel shows the search for identity of a young man who has grown up semi-detached from the White British and the Chinese in Malaya.  When he meets Endo, a Japanese national new to the island of Penang, Philip is drawn to him and a teacher pupil relationship begins which teaches Philip not just a martial art but a way of being comfortable with himself.


Yet his loyalty to his Japanese friend brings problems when the war comes to Penang and the Japanese occupy the island.  Once again, Philip finds himself adrift from the majority of the community.  The consequences of warfare on the rest of his family and his friends make for both a thrilling and heart-wrenching book.  Since the book is narrated by a Philip at the end of his life, it is no secret to write that he survives the war.  Readers will decide for themselves whether this was a fate worse than death; just as they will decide whether the young man caught between worlds is a hero or a collaborator.

This is a novel that stays with you long after you have finished. It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


The Long Search

This television series had me gripped back in the 70s, when it was first broadcast.  It was a time of big serious topics in long documentary series made and broadcast by BBC television.  The emphasis was on the subject and not the ‘celebrity’ fronting it.  The presenter was chosen carefully; the person chosen had to have the right degree of gravitas and be a first class communicator.

In the case of this, their showcase look at world religions, the presenter needed to be a seeker rather than an expert. Ronald Eyre was an excellent choice.  He was a theatre director who took on the search in the spirit of enquiry.


Each film studied a religion as it was practiced in a particular part of the world; Hinduism was viewed from an Indian perspective as you would expect but the film about Protestant Christianity was made in USA.

The series was broadcast in 1977.  It comes from a time when television makers treated audiences with respect and intelligence.  I am sure that, now, we would have to have a minor celebrity being amazed by the religions of the world.


‘The Long Search’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?