Do not be put off by this book's reputation for difficulty. It is difficult, but it is not so difficult that it cannot be read (most of the time). However, it is often obscure and is sometimes completely bonkers. A good preparation is to watch the film by Joseph Strick starring Milo O'Shea. This will give you a taste of the book's style and structure. This book is considered a classic of modernist writing. When first published in 1922 Ulysses was met with "widespread bafflement", even from fellow writers. Storytellers create a myth by describing a story as real; Joyce creates reality by describing it as myth.
Part of its reputation is that it is a book often bought, but less often read. I can understand this. I found the book too long and it was often strange. The writing style changes with each chapter and a new chapter is indicated only by a horizontal line with no title or number. At times I had no idea what was going on and yet it is not that difficult to read if you accept that you will encounter strangeness and that you will not always understand. It can also be thoughtful, amusing and very honest. It was its honesty that got it prosecuted for obscenity.
THE STORY: The story is set in Dublin on Thursday 16 June 1904. The first three chapters concern young Stephen Dedalus, who was the main character in Joyce's previous book, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". The following chapters concern Leopold Bloom and the people he encounters during the day. Towards the end of the book Leopold Bloom meets Stephen Dedalus. Bloom's day is eventful but also humdrum.Read more ›
On the back of this Penguin edition we have a quote from Anthony Burgess: 'Everybody knows now that Ulysses is the greatest novel of the century'. This is so obviously untrue that one should probably ignore it (the vast majority have never read the book, and you can't 'know' something that is purely subjective), but even so, there seems to be some agreement, amongst these kinds of listings, that this is a contender for `best novel ever written ...'
Which is why, after two previous attempts at reading Ulysses, this time I kept going to the end, and even enjoyed the experience. That is not to say that I agree with the consensus verdict. Better than `The Brothers Karamazov', `War And Peace', `Anna Karenina' ... perhaps (it seems to be a requirement of `great' novels that they be very long and sometimes boring). But is it better than Proust? I'm not so sure. Personally, I prefer `In Search of Lost Time' to all of them.
Be that as it may, I have several objections to this book. For one thing, it strikes me as being incredibly pretentious. Yes, it's very experimental and awfully clever; many new ideas and a great influence as a `modern' novel. But how many readers can honestly say that they understand what Joyce was trying to do, or what he was actually saying? Even Burgess thought that Joyce must be mad. We are told that Ulysses is a modern rendering of Homer's Odyssey, but I doubt that most readers would figure this out for themselves. And how good can a novel be if long passages read like a load of nonsense, or if it doesn't make you turn the pages simply because you want to find out what happens next? (It certainly didn't have this effect on me.)
Enjoyable in places, yes, and sometimes amusing.Read more ›
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