Sunday, June 17, 2012

The James Joyce Experience

Yes, yes, I know all the Bloomsday posts went out yesterday. I'm too non-linear for that.
In honor of Bloomsday I began reading Ulysses last night. It has sat on my shelf since I started college, but I've always been too timid to delve into it. I tested the waters with The Dubliners, reading it mostly out of order ("Araby" in one class, "The Dead" in another, then finally sitting down to read the rest of the collection on my own). I enjoyed it, some sections more than others. In one year I will be graduated with a BA in English (no singing please), so I decided to finally tackle this intimidating tome.
What has pleasantly surprised me is how funny the novel is. The characters are rich and lively, I can hear and see them quite clearly. The little observations of life and Joyce's tendency to make up and combine words make this quirky and avant garde.
That's not to say this is an easy read by any means. No. I've read the first section in the past twenty-four hours and am currently taking a breather. The end of the section crescendos into a stream of conscience marathon where we're half in the real world and half in the mind of Stephen. Images pile on images. Images of religion, nature, sensuality and meld together and follow the thoughts of a young writer.
James Joyce: literary pirate.
Joyce traveled and even lived chiefly in Paris for the last twenty years of his life, but all of his stories are firmly grounded in Dublin. He even recycles characters between his novels. I didn't realize it until I looked up some of the background information on this particular novel (thanks again Wikipedia) that Stephen from Ulysses is the main character of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Joyce is still acknowledged as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. It was Joyce that perfected the stream of consciousness style that broke new ground in the first half of the century. His novels are lush and have been at times banned for their realistic portrayal of everyday vulgarity. Besides all that, he looks way better in an eye patch than most people can even dream of.
So, I'll continue plowing my way through what may be Joyce's masterpiece. I'll be taking my time with this one. Last summer I spread out AS Byatt's The Children's Book over the course of my vacation, coming back to it through the weeks. This summer it will be Ulysses that is my long term reading commitment. Some books are meant to be read in one sitting or over a few days, some need to be slowly and gradually digested while you have little snacks of other books in between. Now you all have greater understanding of why my blog is called "Book Eater."
And, if you love Joyce, you might want to check out his letters to Nora which are available online. Prepare to see a new side of Joyce, one that might repulse you a little. Or a lot.

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