Posts Tagged ‘James Joyce’

As I mentioned in an earlier blogpost, I set myself the challenge to read all 100 books in the BBC’s list of the Nation’s Favourite books.  When I first saw the list I’d read approximately 33 of the books, so I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult a challenge.  There were a few books on the list that I was not looking forward to reading; namely War and Peace, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Midnight’s Children, and the Jacqueline Wilson books!  There were other books that I had never heard of and had no opinion on whatsoever; such as Dune and Magician.  To my surprise I found that I enjoyed War and Peace, Captain Corelli, Dune, Magician, The Shell Seekers, The Thorn Birds and many, many more.

I didn’t enjoy reading Midnight’s Children, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The God of Small Things or Crime and Punishment.

But I found a love for Terry Pratchett!  Who knew I would enjoy sci-fi so much.

Generally, it wasn’t a difficult list to complete, I struggled to get through some of the books I’ve mentioned, but I also wasn’t going to give up on any of them and they didn’t feel insurmountable. And the number of books I liked and the new found loves kept me interested and ready to try anything.

However, there has been one book that stopped me from completing this challenge a year ago!  That book was Ulysses by James Joyce.  I picked it up in October 2009 prepared to read it and complete the challenge by Christmas.  But I just couldn’t do it; I’ve never put down a book so much in my life before!  I was so fed up with it I put it down in November and didn’t pick it up again until March 2010.  But I soon put it down again.  Then in late October I decided I’d had enough, I wanted to finish the damn thing and be done with it.  So picked it up and set myself rules; I was only allowed to read Ulysses and nothing else during the week but I could read other books at weekends.  I found myself actually hoping that I wouldn’t get a seat on the tube, because the book was too heavy to hold with one hand whilst standing!  Ridiculous, I know!

But I persevered and on Friday 17 December I finally finished Ulysses, the challenge was over!

I was so relieved.  You may have guessed that this was one of the less enjoyable books on the list.  It was a strange book; it certainly wouldn’t be in my top 100 of favourite books and I couldn’t recommend it as a good book to read.  But it is interesting in its own way.  It’s intellectually stimulating and it explores a multitude of literary and grammatical styles which challenge the reader throughout.  I want to call it an indulgence on Joyce’s part; a book he wanted to write without really caring what anyone else thought.  The sort of book a well-renowned author might produce and get published because his publishers have made enough money to lose some on their author’s whim!  But that doesn’t feel fair.  Joyce struggled to complete this book, struggled to find someone willing to publish it, and struggled to get it accepted by general society.  It only exists because of his pure determination and the generosity and courage of his friends.  It had to be smuggled into the United States and the publisher lost a lot of money producing the first edition.

Now that I’ve completed the book I think I have a better insight into why Joyce wanted to create such a work.  He wanted to challenge our perceptions of how books should be written and what they should be written about.  And he does that.  Ulysses does challenge and stimulate, no matter how infuriating it might be!  And although the novel is a day in the life of Leopold Bloom my favourite section was the last, when it’s written from the point of view of his wife Molly and Leo’s asleep.  Many parts of the book are dull and tedious, other parts are amusing or barely decipherable, but the last section feels the most human and realistic.

Overall, this is a book that I will probably never read again but it’s also one I’m not likely to forget!  Try it if you dare.


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