Monday, January 3, 2011

by James Joyce

James Joyce has always been a very intimidating author for me. His books Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are infamous for how difficult they are to read. I decided to start with Dubliners and see how that went before diving into another one of his and I’m glad I did. Even though I approached it with trepidation, I really enjoyed it.

I’m sure I’m not supposed to say this, but Dubliners reminded me of Maeve Binchy’s short story collections. Her books, The Return Journey and London Transports, give glimpses of the lives of Irish and English people going about their daily lives and this book does the same. Both Dubliners and Binchy’s collections give readers well-written characters that they care about by the end of the story. The difference, of course, is that Joyce’s writing it much more poetic, but still, they have a similar feel.

It’s odd to think about how controversial this book was when it was first released. Its content seems so tame compared with today’s standards, but at the time publishers were turning him down because it was too “lewd” because there were references to drunks, etc.

I think my two favorites in the selection were “A Little Cloud,” a grass-is-always-greener story, and “The Dead.” To me, Joyce managed to blend the three vital elements of a great short story: good characters, an interesting look at their lives and beautiful prose.

Here are a few examples of Joyce’s wonderful way with words…

“A dull resentment against his life awoke within him.”

“But we are living in a skeptical and, if I may use the phrase, a thought-tormented age: and sometimes I fear that this new generations, educated or hyper-educated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour which belong to an older day. “

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

If you’ve been thinking of trying this author out, but aren’t sure where to start, I’d pick this one up and go from there.


Teacher/Learner said...

Thanks for the great review & recommendation. I read a short story of Joyce's but am blanking on the title, and I think I read The Dead as well. Joyce is challenging but wrote pleasantly enough that the language could sustain you rather than the scattered, stream-of-consciousness plots.

Allie said...

I'm glad that this wasn't too scary for you! I am also planning on reading this one before diving into any of his "big scary works."

Jamie said...

I have this one on my shelf and I keep meaning to get to it. I figured it would be an appetizer to some of his more lofty works :P

Rebecca Chapman said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I have always been too nervous to try his books to because of my perception that he is a seriously challenging author and a fear that I might not be able to meet this challenge. I will be on the look out for Dubliners after reading your review

Cat said...

Oh, great review. I've had Ulysses in the shelf for years and never had the courage to pick it up...and Mama-hood has dulled my attention span even more so that hasn't helped...I'll give this one a go when I get through the Christmas stash. :) x

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This was a great way to get a taste of his writing without committing to a mammoth book like Ulysses. I’ve always been a bit scared of him and this was a good way to break the ice.

Anonymous said...

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was my "gateway drug" to Joyce. Once I got past 'all the moo cow business' at the beginning I didn't find it that hard to read... :-)

Jeanne said...

Joyce is one of the authors who can be relied on to bring tears to my eyes. The end of the story "Araby" is one I feel very deeply. This is usually unrelated to the actions of the story; it's just that he can describe the feelings people have so well, even when you have very little in common with his characters.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bibliophilica - I think Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man will be my next Joyce.

Jeanne - I agree. He has a powerful way of capturing emotion. I can understand the draw of trying one of his more difficult books.

Bybee said...

Dubliners is one I've meant to read for years...I think I have it on the TBR (checking)No, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I'm sure it's at my university library.

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