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A triumph of style over substance
Ulysses - James Joyce
Member Name: grahamt
Ulysses - James Joyce
Advantages: Very little, unless you are an undying Joyce fan
Disadvantages: Extensive use of foreign languages ; unintelligible plot
I am an avid reader. I will often have more than one book on the go at a time. They will usually be different types of books so that I don't get the "plots" mixed up. I will change from one book to another when I start to find one starting to become wearing. I may even finish the new book completely before going back to the original.
In recent years I have been catching up on classic novels and in this way I have now completed reading the works of John Buchan (The 39 Steps, Huntingtower, Greenmantle...), L Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz...), Leslie Charteris (The Saint) and Ian Fleming (Bond). I am looking forward to starting tackling Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy and have already downloaded Jude the Obscure. Many of these, being classics, are now out of copyright and so are freely available as eBooks through sources such as The Gutenberg Project.
Jude the Obscure I chose through having read an article listing the 100 [supposedly] greatest books of all time. I was alarmed to discover that of the 100 listed I had only read eight! I determined to improve that record. Amongst those listed I noted one that will be familiar to most people - James Joyce's Ulysses. This I chose as my first.
Ulysses was written by Joyce just after the end of the First World War but is set in a period before this war broke out. The events take place on a single day in Dublin, at that time part of an Ireland still ruled by Britain, and revolve around two principal characters: Stephen Daedalus and Leon Bloom. Joyce achieved huge notoriety with this book, it being banned in many countries, including Britain and America, for many years. I really had to find out what all the fuss was about.
The book is divided into three section which we can loosely describe as a Prologue, Main and Epilogue. The Prologue introduces the principal and secondary characters and the setting of the main section.
Both the Prologue and Epilogue are reasonably intelligible to most readers but seem to contribute very little to the substance of the book. The main section, however is a very different story, if you'll excuse the pun.
Reputedly, the story, split into 18 sections, though there really aren't any indicators such as chapters, to indicate that you have moved from one section to another, is Joyce's re-imagining of the events of Homer's Odyssey into events involving his own characters in the setting of a single Dublin day. The events that Homer described spanned 10 years! OK, I'll take his word for that!
Notwithstanding this section's allusions to Homer, which I confess I couldn't identify, the biggest issue that makes it a challenging read is Joyce's use of a multiplicity of languages, modern and classical, and of obscure words that most readers would need a dictionary to understand. I certainly did. This is clearly deliberate and for the purpose of saying "How clever am I".
However, it seems that the notoriety of this book is largely centred around the final section of the Epilogue of the story, which is probably the most bizarre piece of writing I have ever read. It relates Molly Bloom's (Leon's wife) musings on her relationships with her husband and with other lovers. The whole section, running to many pages, is written entirely without any form of punctuation or paragraphs. It reads like a man's impression of how women gossip, rambling on from subject to subject with hardly a pause for breath.
Yes, there are many sexual references, which may have been considered shocking in their day but over which a modern reader of the "Shades of Grey" generation would hardly bat an eyelid.
I doubt I have ever read a more self-indulgent and pretentious work of literature in my entire life. Joyce clearly wrote this as an exercise in demonstrating that he could fool both his admirers and his critics with a work of seeming intelligence and depth but in truth intended simply to dare anyone to call him out. I was determined to finish the book in order to see if there was any real merit but, on closing the book after the final page, I confess that I could find none.
What I can say is that I have now read Ulysses, so you don't have to. Be sure in the knowledge that if you never read it, your life will not be any the less rich.
Summary: Joyce's famous self-indulgent literary work, written as a challenge to his peers.