on 27 July 2004
So much has been written about this book in the past eighty years that its reputation alone is enough to dissuade some readers. I think that the reviews printed here reflect the balance of opinion about it, both why it is so revered and why some describe it as being unreadable. For what it is worth, 'Ulysses' is, for me, one of the most sublime monuments in world literature, a book unlike any other, and one that deserves a place among the very small number of classics that should be enjoyed for centuries to come. However, I do understand those that have struggled and failed with it.
Firstly, to like this book is not 'pretentious'. It is perhaps my pretension that made me read it and want to understand it to begin with, but certainly not my pretension that made me enjoy it. These are not to be confused. Secondly, it is 'difficult'. If someone tells you otherwise, I would like to know what they are comparing it to. Joyce's language is convoluted and obscure, and often important events are referred to so obliquely that they bypassed me if my attention was wandering. I have read the book twice and realised that I missed much the first time round. However, the rewards for sticking with it are huge. Thirdly, don't let the scholarly dissection of the book put you off. There are a lot of themes underpinning the book, not least the explicit parallels with the 'Odyssey' and the slightly more implicit theme of the relationships between fathers and sons (paralleled by a reference to Hamlet that runs through the book). However, it would be wrong to view 'Ulysses' as some sort of puzzle to be solved. It is, very simply, a book about a man (Bloom/Daedalus/Joyce) and about Ireland in 1904. For all its scholarly overtones it is about a day in the life of an everyman. He isn't a hero, he doesn't save the world or fight the bad guy and, paradoxically, this should make it more, not less, accessible to most readers. If you are able to overcome the complex structure (which becomes one of the book's joys, honest) and lack of plot then the odyssey through a single day and a single language, and a single city becomes the most incredible journey in literature. I have read it twice, and both times I was unable to out the book out of my head for several days after I had out it down. It felt more like having an important life moment than simply reading a book. I read a lot, but only a couple of books make me feel this way, and this is one. If this (admittedly pretentious sounding) review doesn't put you off, then please make the effort to read this book. It really is worth it.
on 1 June 1999
Nearly everybody knows about Joyce's extravagant depiction of one day in early 20th century Dublin, and almost nobody has actually read it (unless forced to do so at school).
The length of the book, the legendary "difficulty" of the English, even the lack of punctuation, all serve to make most potential readers queasy. This perception is enhanced by the enormous volume of secondary writing on the book and Joyce himself. Everything about the text seems to be a license for academics to be pretentious and superiour. Read Ulysses for pleasure? Are you mad? Have you been down the pub with Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus?
As far as I am aware, I am neither mad nor drunk, but I do recommend holding one's literary breath and plunging into this masterpiece.
This book is truly an extraordinary novel. Joyce is a master at depicting and analysing mankind. His ability to describe human emotions on both a concious and sub-concious level is amazing. I am not saying it is easy. To be honest, there are large parts of the book that even after re-reading are way over my head, but too many believe that the book is beyond them. One should not focus on the bad, but the good, and the overall effect of the novel is nothing short of awesome.
So go on, ignore the stigma and the prejudice.
Read Ulysses, for fun.
on 19 December 2013
Started Ulysses twice at age of seventeen and then at eighteen and hoyed it both times after two hundred pages. I decided then I was obviously not clever enough to do it justice. My elder brother, a working class intellectual, sneered at my lack of mental stamina. And so be it. It does require stamina, fortitude, determination and enough supplements to stun a bull rhino to get through all 934 pages. So at the age of fifty eight I embarked on a further journey to read each and every page-well up to page 503 after that it was switch to speed auto read. Ok so completed around 1920, it is for obvious reasons a classic. Mr Joyce was a smart and creative force. Dublin in a day and everyman's journey (Leopold Bloom) is a worthy vehicle to drive this opus. It is that after a while it becomes tedious and I sank beneath the clever use of language to scream enough! Its parts do not justify the bulk of the whole. I lack a classical education, am self-taught but widely read. "War and Peace" it is not. My brother loved it because in general it excludes riff-raff like me. He, with a brain like a combined harvester on steroids could churn through and admire multiple levels of thought, process and he got a lot of the literary in-jokes. Me, I just wiped me brow, sweated on, rolled up more of me sleeve and wondered when the agony would end. When the last page turned, did I feel a better man for it? Not a bit. But good on you Mr Joyce, you kicked the bollocks out of the traditional novel and for that we ought to hold you in gratitude. But will I read it for fun at ninety? Don't hold your breath. Now where's me favourite Noddy book?
on 3 October 2013
Finnegans Wake. Well it took me 6 months to read Ulysses (including the excellent guide book necessary for comprehension). That's about 250 hours.
I thought I'd try FW next. I have 3 books to help understanding, that's 4 books to read. So far I have read the introduction & a few pages of FW. I recon it takes 2 hours to read each page of FW to have any hope of understanding it. The problem is that having deciphered each sentence & paragraph it takes so long that the previous paragraph has been almost forgotten & is difficult to reprise. I can appreciate that it is a great novel. BUT do I want to spend 2 to 3 years to read it? Somehow I feel that I can use the time so much better. I am not going to give up, but perhaps I will wait until I am infirm & obliged to stay in & read, & I have the necessary 1500 hours.
If I were cynical I could perhaps mock/joke about FW by saying that each word has so many meanings/interpretations/double meanings/etc/etc that by only a slight extension perhaps the whole OED (Oxford English Dictionary) could be replaced by one word since each word has all meanings. FW renders language both very rich & meaningless.
Reading & understanding this book is a truly daunting intellectual challenge & not for the fainthearted & not just `for fun'.
on 13 October 2013
Joyce's last great work is a 628 page book of comic prose, written in a language that shares some elements with English as we know it, but relies heavily on multilingual puns and other effects that make it seem at first wholly impenetrable. The clues are there, however, and since the book's publication in 1939 a dedicated following of Joyce scholars have set out to elucidate its many difficulties.
This edition, in Oxford World's Classics, is the most helpful that I have found so far. Having tried the Faber (small print, no introduction), the Penguin (good introduction by Seamus Deane, brief chapter summaries) and the Restored (baffling introductory and afterword texts, questionable repagination), I've been enjoying Finn Fordham et al's expert handling of the text in this Oxford edition. The chapter summaries are particularly helpful, and no reader will want to be without them. More succinct than Campbell or Tindall, and inevitably less thorough than McHugh's 'Annotations', the Oxford edition is surely the quickest way into this deeply puzzling text.
As Anthony Burgess said about Jeri Johnson's superb edition of 'Ulysses' in its 1922 text (also in the OWC series), "this is the one to get".
on 1 March 2012
I have been through a few Kindle versions of Ulysees now but have given up on each after a chapter or so due to poor formatting or missing/jumbled text. I was about to give up on counting it in my library until I saw this version and for the sake of a quid - thought I'd give it a try. And I'm pleased I did. It is presented perfectly and if you are going to attempt this goliath of a book on your Kindle then you'd be hard-pushed to find a more readable version. It comes with some decent original photos too - but more importantly, it is true to the print version and set out as it should be for Kindle - with menus that actually work and page breaks where they should be. Everyone should at least try to read Ulysees in their lifetime - give it a go!
on 8 October 2000
Finnegans Wake is the most daring novel ever written. Despite this, it seems to be its fate not to be appreciated for what it is. Its original publisher Faber has let it go out of print. Its very name is mostly given wrongly ... Adolescents who have struggled with Ulysses feel that it is their right to abuse it.
So what is it, after all?
The funniest novel ever written. The best book about adultery. The best book about sibling rivalry. The only book which reruns a country's history from the point of view of a provincial pub landlord. The best written book ever. Better than Ulysses.
Right, I'm obviously not going to precis the plot or anything. Why should you read it?
The first thing to say is that you can read Vico, Bruno the Nolan and the Four Masters if you want, but why bother? It's not an intellectual book. Joyce was clever enough, but he wasn't an intellectual. So this is not a book for intellectuals. Hardly surprising, Joyce was much more interested in the smell of dirty knickers than in philosophy.
Read it aloud in a cod Oirish accent if you want to feel the prose. Get the casettes to help you out, I have.
Read the prose from "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recurculation back to Howth Castle and Environs." to "Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the"
Yes it does make more sense if you reverse them. This is something you learn.
What about the first words of the most accessible section, about the Liffey. (This is a gross simplification of the theme.)
"O tell me all about Anna Livia! I want to hear all about Anna Livia. Well, you know Anna Livia? Yes, of course, we all know Anna Livia. Tell me all. Tell me now" And thus the washerwomen set off, we can only follow.
If you read the work you will gain information in a thousand areas. Here are some at random
How to talk dirty in geometry classes. The irritating qualities of unpruned trees. Aspects of chicken rearing. What the thunder said. (Quite a lot, actually) What a quark really is. The role of Norsemen in Ireland. And many, many more.
I repeat this is not an intellectual book, you don't need to be a scholar to read it.
I first read it when I had just turned 16. I had romped through Ulysses without a note and without a qualm. I found the Wake a bit tougher and had to give up around page 300. However, I trusted Joyce, every time he wrote a book it was better than the last. So I started again. I used the Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake by Campbell and Robinson; now a VERY rare work. Today I would use A SHORTER FINNEGANS WAKE, Edited by Anthony Burgess. Spend thirty or forty hours getting your bearings and the book is yours for life.
Read it regularly if you want. If you don't want todo this, park it by your desk and open it at random whenever you fancy, read a page aloud, laugh a lot.
So, why make the effort? Well if you like well made plots, neat outcomes, clean lines on a well-polished body, don't bother. If you like puns, obscure jokes, fake scholarship and a swamp you will never plumb, give it a go.
What about the words stuffed with meanings? Well, mainly they are just the shortest way to tell a good joke!
Give it a go, save it from the maniac academics.
on 10 February 2008
I'm in two minds about this book.
On the one hand, this is quite obviously a work of genius at some level, full of beautiful poetry, humour and truth about the human condition, all filled into a day in the life of the two (or three including the last chapter) main narrators.
On the other hand, there are so many allusions to things the average reader will be ignorant of as to render meaningless, which allied to the difficult narrative makes this a highly frustrating read.
In trying to understand parts of the novel that passed me by, I did some literary research and discovered the amazing depth this novel. Each chapter for example (apparantly!) has a theme based on colour and body part, and for this to be successfully woven into a story is a great achievement. The different styles and techniques used to tell the story is also highly impressive, while at the same time adding to the difficulty of the read.
The book is full of riddles and puzzles, some of which the answers to remain elusive to minds greater than mine. And there-in lies the problem; who has the time to spend reading and re-reading a book that is already close to a thousand pages long in order to fully understand it?
I have given this four stars rather than anything lower (and I very nearly did), to acknowledge that many of the problems of this book are down to the ignorance and lack of patience (or intelligence) of the reader, and indeed there are parts that are genuinely enjoyable through being funny, truthful or touched by genius.
However the nagging doubt remains that this book and the praise it has engendered is a partial case of the emperor's new clothes (and indeed the same could be said of modernism as a whole). At the very least, it seems that in being so tremendously ambitious, Joyce fell slightly short, as he himself is known to have admitted.
This is the most important question for those who have yet to dip their toes in this 'difficult classic' - they may have read 'Dubliners' or 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' but find 'Ulysses' daunting.
Well, yes - it is worth the trouble, and the trouble may be less than you think and the effort more fun than you imagined. This book is very funny and very beautiful.
The book concerns a day in the life of Stephen Dedalus young would be writer and Leopold Bloom middle aged advertising space salesman, with the final chapter being given to the nocturnal thoughts of Bloom's unfaithful wife,Molly. During the day Bloom attends a funeral, faces down a racist bigot, masturbates and saves a drunken Stephen from two British soldiers before taking him home. The books famed mythic parallels, it's symbolism, puzzles, allusions etc are all very well when one has made some headway into the book - and it is a book one goes back to, but the nervous reader is more concerned with its difficulty.
The simple answer is not to get too bogged down when one does not understand something. Skip with impunity. Do not give up stumped at chapter three - we've all been there and it is worth pressing on. The difficulty lies partly with Joyce's 'internal monologue' technique particularly when the thoughts being set down in this abbreviated form are those of the erudite (and pretentious) Stephen - and partly (especially in the second half of the book) with the plethora of styles Joyce uses to mirror the action of the book - parody, pastiche and musical and rhythmic devices. Yet in these styles lie so many of the book's joys - one is again and again stopped in one's tracks by a perfectly shaped sentence ,a piece of intriguing wordplay or a sly shaft of wit.
If you persevere with this book you will find your own reasons for going back to it. This book in a very strange and subtle way, is a lifechanger.
on 2 February 2003
I'm just completing a re-reading of Ulysses twenty years after reading it as a student, and I'm amazed at how much I'm enjoying it. Yes, it's difficult and packed with allusions to literature, religion and philosophy that I've no idea about. But the sheer poetry of the writing, the humour and the inclusive passion for experience and existence, thought and emotion, have carried me over the difficult passages. 80 years after it was written there's still nothing to compare with Ulysses in its daring, scope and formal experimentation. If you want to understand the modern novel at all, start here.