Ireland was still fresh in my heart when I saw an invitation to the Bloomsday Book Club hosted at the residence of the Ambassador of Ireland. The book to read was Dubliners by James Joyce. I’ve never read James Joyce, not that I’ve not attempted. I have a copy of A Portrait of an Artist and couldn’t go beyond the first chapter, so I thought perhaps the audiobook would be more digestible. I listened to it in the car (instead of in bed) but the story couldn’t hold my attention. The reader was just droning on in the background as I drove (perhaps it’s my fault and that’s why I’ve signed up for a Mindfulness Reading talk this weekend.) Then I saw a TED clip on why everyone should read Ulysses (https://youtu.be/X7FobPxu27M) and so I bought the book. How difficult can the book be right? It’s just about a day in the life of some individuals. Again I gave up, but I will go back when the time is right. I always believe that one must find the right time and mood for any book. And I was proven right when Dubliners came along – a collection of fifteen short stories by the Joyce.
Anyone who is attempting to read James Joyce should start with this book. This centennial edition includes an introduction to the book and Joyce. Also included are a long list of appendix to places and Irish phrases, which I diligently referred to in the beginning but gave up as it got too tedious later.
I can’t say I enjoy the stories, perhaps except for a few, like Araby, about a boy who wanted to buy a gift from a fair for his object of affection but lacks the money. ‘Every morning I lay on the floor in the front window watching her door…When she came out on the doorstep, my heart leaped.’ It reminded of my own teenage years.
Eveline, another story I can empathize with, is about a girl who wants to escape the drudgery of her life, and is given a chance to escape to another world by a love interest, except the reader will never know if she went on the boat. I thought she didn’t, but some in the book club discussion think she did.
The central theme of these short stories is paralysis (I wouldn’t know if this was not pointed out to me) but on hindsight, many of the characters are paralyzed and did not achieve what they set up to do. In fact, much of the stories have no endings, just hanging on a tread.
Some of his proses are really lyrical and difficult to imagine was written a young man of early twenties. Like in Araby: ‘ ..my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.’
His play of words is clever too, as in how he uses the word cross in a passage in The Dead: to cross in a dance while neighbours listen on to the cross-examination between the dancers, and then a beautiful crossing from Glasgow to Dublin.
My heart skips as I read about familiar places, like Galway for one.
I wonder though, why he is so revered. Yet unlike me, the book club seems to like his stories and prose, which perhaps proves I am a shallow reader and the lack of a literature background.