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This review is from: Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
People who don't like Finnegans Wake often feel obscurely resentful, and can't believe that anyone else genuinely does like it. I firmly believe that you can't persuade anyone to like anything, so I'm not going to argue with anyone who thinks that I'm fooling myself, or trying to show off. Saying you like Finnegans Wake is in any case a bit like saying you like Arnold Schoenberg's music; most people won't know what you're talking about, and most of the rest won't believe you and think you're pretentious anyway, so the moral is, there's very little kudos in saying that you _do_ like the damn book.
It's just the ultimate novel. All novels, even the simplest, have various layers of allusion or symbolism going on; this one just has more. All novels are written with some kind of self-conscious style; this is the most stylish. All novels are structured one way or the other; this is uber-structured. I've often thought that Finnegans Wake is in many ways a precursor of HTML. Some genius should do an online version of it. Practically every word would be a hyperlink, leading to a page or so of annotation (Roland McHugh's book 'Annotations to Finnegans Wake' is the most ambitious print venture of that sort, but with the novel itself you get the most alarming sense that the layers go on forever...)
Every novel is difficult if you've never read novels before. If you've only read trash, then even a middling good novel is tough going; the writer demands more of the reader. James Joyce merely wants you to spend the rest of your life reading this book. Personally I think that's one of his better jokes. To go back to Schoenberg again (yeah, I know it's not exactly enticing to compare Joyce to Schoenberg, but bear with me), the essential thing is that there's just more going on here; Schoenberg has a million tunes going on at once, Joyce has a million linguistic things going on at once. I don't call that "having a shoddy grip on his talent", I call that generosity.
After trying to work out why people resent this book so much, I've come to believe that some people hate to think that there's anyone out there who's effortlessly smarter than they are. I, for one, am happy to accept that Joyce can just write anyone else off the planet.
Personally, I believe that the book becomes a lot more realistic if you read it with an Irish accent in your head. But try it and see. Nobody will seriously believe that you're reading it, so what have you got to lose?