Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Ulysses or Elaine vs Goliath

Author:  James Joyce

Published: 1922

What They Say: In the past, Ulysses has been labelled dirty, blasphemous, and even unreadable. None of these adjectives, however, do the slightest justice to the novel. To this day it remains the modernist masterpiece, in which the author takes both Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes. It is funny, sorrowful, and even (in a close-focus sort of way) suspenseful. And despite the exegetical industry that has sprung up in the last 75 years, Ulysses is also a compulsively readable book.

William Blake saw the universe in a grain of sand. Joyce saw it in Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904, a day distinguished by its utter normality. Two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, go about their separate business, crossing paths with a gallery of indelible Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and (in Bloom's case) masturbate. And thanks to the book's stream-of-consciousness technique--which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river--we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordion folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism.

What Elaine Says: I did it.  I bloody did it!  A very large pat on the back for me.  I've conquered the behemoth. I've slew Goliath.  I jumped like Baumgartner.  OK so maybe not quite but what I have done is face and conquer my book nemesis, James Joyce's Ulysses. 

Why book nemesis you may ask?  Well, for a start ...
  • This book is over 900 pages of modernist surrealism 
  • The last chapter contains no punctuation as it's pure stream of consciousness yes
  • I first bought this book when I was 15 years old (in an effort to impress my English teacher) and it has sat on my shelf since that day.  That's a period of *cough* 17 years *cough*
So after all that, was it worth it?  Well, in a word, YES.   This is not an easy read (and indeed in some sections, not even enjoyable) but it is undeniably a masterpiece.   It's dirty, yes.  Vulgar, yes.  Completely perplexing in parts, yes.  BUT it's also beautiful, lyrical, funny and human.

So why 9 stars and not 10?  Well that's purely down to the sheer effort of reading this book.  It is phenomenally difficult to follow in some parts.  Some of Joyce's literary and modernist allusions simply went over my head. That's my fault not Joyce's.  Also as this novel was 'experimental', and not all of it worked for me.  That one I'm blaming on Joyce.

I'm glad I read it and will definitely seek out some of Joyce's other (and shorter) works!

WARNING:  Buy an annotated version of this novel at your own risk!  You'll need strong wrists.  Kindle version highly recommended.

Elaine's Rating: 9/10


“Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.” 

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