Thursday, August 13, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 20 -- Ulysses

by James Joyce

Started: May 2
Finished: Aug. 13

Notes: This novel might be the epitome of overly literary, long-winded, erudite, pedantic novels. Yet I've been meaning to read it for some time, as I have an appreciation for Joyce's sentence structure and some of his allusions (at least the ones I get ... and if you don't get them, don't feel bad about it because there are so many and most readers aren't going to get them all).

Mini review: It is difficult to describe this book. For one thing, it's not a novel, and least not by traditional standards. There isn't really a plot, though there are events that follow along a main character throughout a particular day in 1904 in Dublin, Ireland. However, the main character does not appear in every chapter, and often when he does, he is not the viewpoint character. This is a book about style, not storytelling, and each chapter focuses upon a different style of writing. There is a chapter written as a play script, a chapter without punctuation, multiple chapters written in the styles of other authors, etc. Not a book for most readers, but I can understand the genius of it when originally published in the early 20th Century; however, today it strikes as self-indulgent and downright snobbish, as in an oh-look-what-I-can-do fashion. Literary grad students and professors, and other with a strong literary bent, will be interested, but I have a hard time imagining anyone caring much for this material. If it sounds like I hated this book, let me state that that is not true, though I do see what I believe would be considered its failings for the modern reader. I did not exactly love this book, and for long stretches it drags on and on with impossible-to-understand situations, but I did enjoy the occasional humor and some of the more beautiful phrases, which were rare but are there. I'm glad I read it, but I can't imagine doing so again. Nearly all this material will be over the heads of the average reader, those not steeped deeply into history, philosophy, religion, and pre-20th Century literature, mainly because there are so many allusions and allegories. Each chapter here is meant to represent a chapter from Homer's Odyssey, but most readers will not pick up on this. And no, I'm not suggesting today's readers are stupid, but that this particular book was written for earlier audiences and the literary crowd, not your casual novel reader.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I started this book a couple of times and didn't make it far. by now I realize I'm just not going to do it. thanks for taking the bullet though. :)