Jamie O'Neill : biography
Jamie O'Neill (born 1962 in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland) is an Irish author. His critically acclaimed novel, At Swim, Two Boys (2001), earned him the highest advance ever paid for an Irish novel and frequent praise as the natural successor to James Joyce, Flann O'Brien and Samuel Beckett. He is currently living in Gortachalla in County Galway, having previously lived and worked in England for two decades.
O'Neill's work follows the imaginative route in Irish literature, unlike his realist contemporaries such as Colm Tóibín or John McGahern. Terry Pender commented on At Swim, Two Boys: "With only this work O'Neill can take his rightful place among the great Irish writers beginning with Joyce and ending with Roddy Doyle".
His current partner is Julien Joly, a former ballet dancer who now works as a Shiatsu therapist. .
Awards and honours
- for Fiction (for At Swim, Two Boys)
- Lambda Literary Award in Gay Men's Fiction (for At Swim, Two Boys)
Background and education
O'Neill was born in Dún Laoghaire in 1962 and was educated at Presentation College, Glasthule, County Dublin, run by the Presentation Brothers, and (in his words) "the city streets of London, the beaches of Greece." He was raised in a home without books, and first discovered that books "could be fun" when he read Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, a copy of which he had received as a Christmas gift. It took him two weeks and was the first book he ever finished. O'Neill was unhappy at home; he had a very difficult relationship with his father and ran away from home at age 17.
He was raised a Catholic and has admitted to a fondness for the language of the Catholic Church. "I like the words, the distinctions they have for sins. For example, "morose delectation." Beautiful. It's the dwelling on pleasure from sins already committed. I kind of admire something that's seen so far inside the soul that it can work out names for these things. Of course, I don't believe a word of it".
O'Neill lists as his favourite books: Ulysses, by James Joyce, The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault, Hadrian the Seventh, by Frederick Rolfe (Frederick Baron Corvo), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Siege of Krishnapur, by J. G. Farrell, One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez, The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien, The Swimming Pool Library, by Alan Hollinghurst, and The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt.
He was one of the Irish delegates at the European Writers Conference in Istanbul in 2010.
O'Neill At Swim
O'Neill sought therapeutic help. The following year, O'Neill's first novel, Disturbance, was published; Kilbrack followed in 1990. O'Neill struggled to write, parted company with both his agent and publisher, and took the job as a night porter at the Cassell Hospital, a psychiatric institution in Surrey from 1990 up to 2000.
O'Neill was in a London pub when he noticed the dog was missing. Paddy had been found by a ballet dancer named Julien Joly. They began a relationship and Joly was instrumental in helping O'Neill put his life back together. During the ten years that followed, O'Neill wrote At Swim, Two Boys, which was published in 2001. Its official launch at Somerset House in London was abandoned on the day — it was September 11, 2001 when terrible things unfolded in the United States.
When published in Britain, Swim was likened to the work of Joyce.
The book allowed O'Neill to quit his job as a porter in a London mental hospital and to open his first bank account.
Ten years after publication, Alison Walsh, reviewing the year 2001 for the Sunday Independent, called it "a vintage one in Irish writing", specifically naming the "unforgettable" At Swim, Two Boys alongside books by Dermot Bolger, Eoin Colfer and Nuala O'Faolain.
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