Getting in bed with Ulysses

When you read novels mainly last thing at night, as do I, you can tell (yourself) how good is the current book by your state of anticipation when ascending the stairs to go to bed.

My current read is causing me lots and lots of pleasing anticipation. I at first had trouble understanding the thing - as much trouble, indeed, as I had many years ago when I began and then aborted my first attempt at James Joyce's Ulysses. But the deeper I get into it the more marvellous it is.

I have often said that novels appeal to their readers on two levels: the story on the one hand and the way the story is actually written (the language and construction) on the other.

Now, as I am only half way through what is by any standards a weighty tome I cannot comment fully on the Ulysses story itself except to say that it seems of only marginal interest. However, Joyce's writing is of massive importance. As Mr Bloom makes his way around Dublin his stream of consciousness is presented to the reader in words and phrases of great and timeless beauty. Time after time I come across a passage that moves and amazes me to the point where I simply have to go back and re-read it, occasionally even out aloud.

A few years ago I read James' brother Stanislaus Joyce's biography, My Brother's Keeper. Here's an extract ... one I included as a lead-in to my volume of short stories, Twenty Bites.


‘My brother never cared a rap who read him. I think he wrote to make things clear to himself. ‘Why publish, then?’ it might be asked. Well, the expression of our ideas and impressions, even when intended for ourselves, becomes clearer when addressed to others.’

Stanislaus Joyce
My Brother’s Keeper

Yes, sometimes the words mean more, much more than the story and can make things clearer for the reader as well as the writer. We all want to understand the great fundamental questions of our own and everything else's existence. Great fiction, written as perfectly as the very few like James Joyce can write it, gets us closer to the truths than any amount of non-fiction or scholarly opinion. 

That's what I think anyway. Can't wait to get upstairs to bed - with James Joyce and Lionel Bloom.



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