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. He prepares his wife's breakfast; he goes to a funeral; he goes to a newspaper office; he has lunch; he goes to the library; he goes to a pub; he goes to a brothel; he goes to a cabbies' all-night café; he goes home. The story is in the detail of the events, the style of their description and in the interior monologues.
SURVIVAL TACTICS: Many of the chapters are straightforward narratives, but many are not and then reading with a positive attitude helps a lot; Joyce is often playful and humorous and should not to be taken too seriously. Speed reading sections won't work but Joyce seems to have a liking for lists and these can be skipped. I wish I had skipped the entire eleventh chapter (starting at page 328 with Bloom in the Ormond Hotel). I found the first two pages without sense or any redeeming humour. I had no idea where the scene was set or what was happening until the third page and I understood about half of the rest of the chapter. There are two chapters that only need sampling on a first reading. One starts at page 561 and ends at page 703 (143 pages). It is an hallucinogenic journey through the streets and brothels of a red-light area called nighttown. Read the first few pages to get a feel for the style and content of the chapter and then read the last few pages where Stephen Dedalus is re-introduced into the story and meets Leopold Bloom. The other is the last chapter that starts on page 871 and ends on page 933 (63 pages). Again, read the start and end of this chapter. This whole chapter is Leopold's wife Molly's famous night-time soliloquy. Here are great slabs of paragraphs many pages long, without punctuation or sentences, representing Molly's stream of consciousness. To read this you have to get as relaxed as Molly Bloom herself as she lies in bed half awake and half asleep.
THE BOOK: This Penguin edition has a 73 page Introduction and a 9 page history of the text and its editions. The text is 933 pages long, divided into 3 parts: Part I (64 pages), Part II (639 pages), Part III (230 pages). Physically, the paperback edition is well made, which is important for a large book, and the font size is readable. The Introduction should be considered a reference to be accessed before, during and after reading the book itself. Its inclusion is another reason that the Penguin edition scores over the out-of-copyright reprints. Although it is 73 pages long, it seems short in comparison to the book it introduces and unlike the book it has sections with titles: The Book, The Structure, the Language, the Characters, Ulysses and Irish Writing. It was written by the Irish academic Declan Kiberd
THE TITLE AND CHAPTERS: Ulysses is the Latin name for Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey
. Joyce has constructed a loose correspondence between his book and this mythological story. Part I of his book describes the movements of Stephen Dedalus, the son of a friend of Bloom; this corresponds to Part I of the Odyssey, which concerns Telemachus, the son of Ulysses. The rest of the Odyssey concerns Ulysses and his adventures as he sails home to Ithaca from Troy. The rest of Joyce's book concerns Leopold Bloom, and his day wandering around Dublin. At the end of the Odyssey, Ulysses returns to Ithaca and is re-united with his son. Towards the end of Joyce's book, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus meet. Although the chapters in the book are untitled, each can be associated with an episode in the Odyssey (see Comments).
CHAPTER STYLES: The writing style can vary but is consistent within each chapter. The early chapters are mainly narratives with varying amounts of internal monologues. Thus chapter 4 begins: "Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes." The start of chapter 8 is less straightforward: "Pineapple Rock, lemon platt, butter scotch. A supersticky girl shovelling scoopfuls of creams for a christian brother. Some school treat. Bad for their tummies. Lozenge and comfit manufacturer to His Majesty the King. God. Save. Our. Sitting on his throne, sucking red jujubes white." Chapter 7, set in a newspaper office, has paragraphs with newspaper-style headlines, which is strange in a book where the chapters have no titles or numbers. Chapter 14, in the maternity hospital, begins: "Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus. Send us, bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit. Send us, bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit. Send us bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit." I have no idea what this means, but it has been suggested that this is a mixture of Celtic wordplay with Latin fertility chants. Deshil comes from the Irish to move clockwise, Holles is the maternity hospital in Holles Street Dublin and Eamus is Latin for "let us go". Whatever. Chapter 15, in nighttown, is written like a play for voices. Chapter 17 has a question and answer format that parodies the Roman Catholic catechism. The last chapter, Chapter 18, is a stream of consciousness: "Yes because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs .... 62 pages .... and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could find my breasts all perfume and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."
MONOLOGUES: Joyce often uses internal monologues. These streams of consciousness can be short or long. And they can be confusing if you're not used to them. Sometimes sentences don't. Sometimes there is no punctuation and you don't always know when one has started there are all the parodies of bits of the Catholic mass. That's where a lot of the Latin comes from. Forget how Catholic Ireland. And the street names in Dublin before the Free State so many must have changed. And why aren't sir and street and square not capitalised? Is it just a thing or is it the proper way? Blurb says Anthony Burgess says "greatest novel of the century" all right for him he's in the business knows his French and Latin and Italian. Joyce did modern languages so that's where it comes from he went to the one in Dublin which isn't Trinity perhaps Trinity was too proddy. But it's not a bad book. Better by hearing it Homer was a voice before it was written the BBC did a radio version cut down but still lasted hours a good introduction. Has anyone tried to film it? Voices with pictures. Funny in places. Probably clever too if you know all about the Ulysses story must be stuff you'd miss otherwise. Say links to it are loose and don't matter then why call it that and not Bloom's Day Out or Urban Walks in Dublin. Dedalus was the father of Icarus but that's another story all very Tanglewood Tales
but not so familiar now. Some of it you'd need another book to explain or better as an ebook with hyperlinks all over it click here to get some sense whole paragraphs where the words are English but the sense is not some have a meaning and some not all mixed together long book though he wasn't taking the Michael was he? I wouldn't mind trying the one before this, the Portrait of the Artist, all about Stephen Dedalus, Telemachus, a young Joyce is Bloom in it? wouldn't go for the next one Finnegans Wake bet that's hard pub was named after it in that short street begins with an s has a market between Victoria and Horseferry where Channel 4 is changed the name since then. Quarks.
In the Mabbot street studio of RTE Brian Boru, king of nighttown interviews, sits on a throne, adjusts his crown and sceptre, then puts his question.
BRIAN BORU: It is said that the events in this story are all made up. Is this true?
LEOPOLD BLOOM: Not at all. All stories are made up and this one is true.
STEPHEN DEDALUS: (holding his hat and ashplant cane tightly, feeling tired and emotional after a night on the town says something indistinct in Latin, then says) I see and hear real. Ineluctable modalities. Where's my hat and ashplant?
THE CITIZEN: It's all lies. Don't believe a word of it.
MOLLY BLOOM: I hope it was all true. Yes, yes, yes.
THE VERY REVEREND JOHN CONMEE S.J.: (with superiority whilst watch-looking and others-blessing) Oh parody of parodies, all is parody.
BRIAN BORU: And with that I would like to thank all my guests tonight. Next week we will look at the new on-trend destination of stylish living in Martello towers. Goodnight.
THE BOOK OF JOYCE: In the Book of Joyce is written the story of the hero Bloom, a wandering Jew in the city of Dublin. It is also the story of the hero's friend's son Dedalus, who was written of in another book. It tells of the hero's wife Molly and of many others in the city. It tells of the butcher and the baker and the candlestick maker, the sandy cove, the busy streets and the raucous tavern. It tells of the places to eat and the place of the dead, the place to print and the place to read, the birthing place and the brothel. It tells of temptation, argument and observation. And, after all the hero's adventures, it tells of his safe return to home.