Wednesday 26 February 2014

Joyce, James "Ulysses"

Joyce, James "Ulysses" - 1922 

I loved the writing but the story was quite overwhelming despite reading "The Odyssey" first which everyone recommends and I would, too. Having a lot of explanations helped but if you generally don't like classics very much, I wouldn't start with this one.

Still, this is the most difficult book I have ever read. It is hard to follow the stream of consciousness, actually it is hard to follow the stream at all. A lot of books are easier once you get into them, not this one. I had the feeling with every chapter it got more confusing.

As in Odyssey we have three parts: The Telemachiad, The Odyssey and The Nostos (Coming Home). In the Telemachiad, you can still follow the teacher Stephen Dedalus in his classroom and understand what he is trying to teach. Then all, of a sudden, the story changes and you encounter the protagonist of the story, Leopold Bloom. We are supposed to follow him around for the day. And follow we do but we don't always have an idea where this is guiding us. Starting at the breakfast table, we attend a funeral, go to a restaurant and end up in the middle of a play.

The best example why we need punctuation is the last paragraph where Bloom's wife Molly tells us her thoughts about her life in general and her marriage to Leopold in particular. Over forty pages and no punctuation. At all. No comma. No bull stop. No paragraph.  You can't even take a break.

However, the longer I distance myself from this novel, the more it makes sense and the bigger an impact does it have on me. I am glad I read it.

If you still are in doubt, consider this quote by William Faulkner:
"You should approach Joyce's Ulysses as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith."

From the back cover:

"For Joyce, literature 'is the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man'. Written between 1914 and 1921, Ulysses has survived bowdlerization, legal action and bitter controversy. An undisputed modernist classic, its ceaseless verbal inventiveness and astonishing wide-ranging allusions confirms its standing as an imperishable monument to the human condition. Declan Kiberd says in his introduction that Ulysses is 'an endlessly open book of utopian epiphanies. It holds a mirror up to the colonial capital that was Dublin on 16 June 1904, but it also offers redemptive glimpses of a future world which might be made over in terms of those utopian moments.'"


  1. While I've read both the Illiad and the Odyssey and enjoyed both I've never attempted Joyce, don't think I have the brain power. I can remember reading Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and finding it hard enough.

  2. I think "Dubliners" is alright which is the only other book I've read by Joyce and I'll probably try some others by him but I would never try to convince anyone that they have to read "Ulysses". It's a tough one and should only be attempted if you really really would like to.

    We read "To the Lighthouse" in our bookclub and we'd read a long book the month before. Someone mentioned that "next month's book will be shorter". LOL, it took at least that long to read that novel.

    Have a good weekend,

  3. This is on my Classics Club list - your review has given me heart.
    I've recently reread The Odyssey; I'm as ready as one can get!

    1. You are right there. I will encourage anyone who really wants to read this, if you love classics it is a MUST. But it is a tough one, even for someone who enjoys all classics. Good luck and let me know how you get on.

      Have a good day,

  4. Well, so you made it through. Well done. I had never heard that one should read The Odyssey first but now that I have, maybe, some day...

    1. Well, you don't have to but I was told it helps since "Ulysses" is more or less based on "The Odyssey". Of course, I have no idea whether it helped that much since I couldn't compare it to not having read "The Odyssey" before. LOL.

      This is one of the books that I really thought was hard to get through, probably the hardest I ever read. And I have read a lot of long and tough ones.