Friday, November 25, 2016


UlyssesUlysses by James Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I've discovered about myself from reading Ulysses:

1. I am good for only one "major" read in a year. I had set out wanting to read this and Proust this year. Alas, I was only able to make it through Ulysses.

2. It's okay to have another along to help you out the first time through. In this case, it was Blamire's The New Bloomsday Book.

3. I realize that Joyce was, indeed, a literary genius. I can see why some writers would quit writing after reading Ulysses, as he is a master of the written word. His flitting from voice to voice and style to style without losing the narrative is proof enough. That said, there are moments of tedium, some of them many pages long, that rival and exceed even the great Moby Dick for sheer boredom. When he's on, he's on, when he's off, he's drop-dead boring . . . and no academic pretense that you want to learn something about whaling (which you really don't, let's face it) will save you this time.

4. I realize that Joyce plays domestic angst in an excruciatingly understated way. He creates excellent tension by what he does not say, as much as by what he does say.

5. The funeral/underworld scene is an astounding piece of work. I felt sadness, pity, annoyance, and laughed aloud, all at once. Such a mixing bowl of emotions in that section. My innards are all tumbled around after that, like I don't know which way is, emotionally speaking, up.

6. Anyone who coins the acronym "K.M.R.I.A" deserves a statue. Or did he coin the term? Either way, he inspired The Pogues to use it in a song, which deserves a statue in its own way.

7. Jest on. Know thyself. may be all you need to know about Joyce and the notion of fiction as autobiography.

8. I love the "sirens" section, with its sing-song rich voice, which feels like it was written in the shadow of Finnegan's Wake. It's one of my favorite places to be a brain.

9. I need to read all of Finnegan's Wake.

10. "-Tis a custom more honored in the breach than in the observance." may be the most clever pun I've ever heard. Ever.

11. I love the sections where Joyce is seemingly channeling Lovecraft, then Dunsany, then Wavy Gravy.

12. The sentence: "The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit." may be one of my favorite sentences of all time.

13. Good golly, Miss Molly!

14. I am lost and found somewhere betwixt Dedalus and Bloom, yet unbounded by one, the other, or both, inside their circle, outside their confines, them, yet me. Joyce's words, Dedalus' and Bloom's actions, my brain, my past, my hopes, my frustrations, my feelings.

15. Yes. Yes.

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1 comment:

  1. This could be the best review of a Joyce tome I've ever read. Alas, of Joyce, I've only read DUBLINERS and PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN - both when I was quite a young man myself. (Which is to say, I don't remember a goddamn thing about either!)What I do remember is pompously telling my twelfth-grade English teacher's very literate husband that I was reading FINNEGAN'S WAKE. Put firmly in my place when he asked if I realized the story took place in a single day, I melted into the woodwork or something and years later found the bookmark still inserted at page 17. So I read - if not understood - that much of it. The closest I came to finishing it was several reads of Richard Farina's BEEN DOWN SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME, which echoes the opening of FW, and has the distinction of being one of two you-love-them-or=hate=them books I read in my teens, the other being Dow Mossman's one and only novel THE STONES OF SUMMER.