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James Joyce

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  243 ratings  ·  39 reviews
If one pairing of author and subject can, on its own, prove the unique merit of the Penguin Lives dynamic, it is Edna O'Brien writing on James Joyce. Of the great works of the twentieth century, his Ulysses stands alone as the groundbreaking, immeasurably influential masterpiece. Edna O'Brien, award-winning novelist and chronicler of Irish life in our day, approaches James ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published October 1st 1999 by Viking Adult
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Justin Evans
An odd experience this: in college, I apparently loved Joyce. I read his works, I read Ellmann's biography, I thought Joyce was right about more or less everything.

Here I am, less than 15 years later, reading O'Brien's short life in anticipation of re-reading Joyce's work (other than the Wake), and I've come to almost exactly the opposite conclusion: that Joyce is wrong about more or less everything: an awful human being who hid behind tiresome romantic cliches about Truth and Beauty, a man who
O'brien writes like an angel ( okay an angel who swallowed a big plate of oirish blarney)
And this is truly brilliant. Lyrical, informative and rich prose that makes you smile as you read- fab.
Hardly a standard biography and not quite literary criticism either, though there are elements of both here certainly: it would perhaps be too glib to call this a portrait of the artist. O’Brien assumes her readers have a familiarity with both the outline of Joyce’s life and his major works, she dives right into the story, parodying Joyce’s style:
Once upon a time there was a man coming down a road in Dublin and he gave himself the name of Dedalus the sorcerer, constructor of labyrinths and make
O'Brien's style, while clearly her own, echoing her short stories and novels, takes on the diction and rhythm of her subject as the biography moves through his career from "Stephen Hero" to "Finnegan's Wake". While her bookl stands on its own as a work of art, O'Brien is neither particularly exact regarding dates nor is she interested pining down when and why the Joyce family moved, for example, for the 11th time while Joyce was still living with them in Dublin--it is enough for her to point out ...more
So this book is clearly written by a writer (and one with a phenomenal vocabulary at that), which, obviously, is great because you get to see a writer thinking about one of her heroes. This also becomes a problem, mostly because I don't agree with O'Brien that a genius is required to be an asshole because of his lack of presence in the real world (among the mere mortals such as Stanislaus, his brother). This is a great fantasy, and perhaps a strange way to put someone on a pedestal, but I have t ...more
I didn't enjoy this book all that much, but it was short enough that I finished it anyway.

In short, the subject matter (James Joyce's life) was not compelling- he was a raging jerk, and seems to have done nothing but torment the people around him. That's probably why, no matter how well written the book could have been, it just sapped my energy trying to get through it. Ironically, although he is apparently a remarkable author, this book had the effect of making me *not* want to read his work. O
Barbara Backus
Edna O'Brien's treatment of James Joyce assumes you've read his works. Her own brilliance comes through as she dissects how he came to produce Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake and his other works. In the hands of a lesser writer, I believe it might have been an easier read, but one without a deep insight into Joyce's manner and style of writing and his inspirations.

But it is the depiction of Joyce's life that is disturbing. Was he a madman or just eccentric? How could he have treated so badly those who
O'Brien channels Joyce's ecstatic language and produces a vivid portrait of the man and his city in this fabulous SHORT biography. I am now a huge fan of the Penguin Lives series.
This cannot have been an easy book to write. Distilling a major author (maybe The author of the 20th century) down to 178 small pages, covering his difficult relationships with family, friends and native country and talking about his books . . . I was impressed with how well Edna O'Brien did. It's a short book but not an easy one -- not in vocabulary, style or depth.
Probably better appreciated by a more literary minded person than myself but I still enjoyed it and found it interesting.
Finished this on the last day of the year.
All in all, I enjoyed this book. It assumes that the reader has read Joyce's works (there are spoilers throughout; some in detail) and knows about Joyce's life. I came in only having read one book and not knowing anything about his life.
In those terms, the book skips through Joyce's life, highlighting the details and important events, without analysis or explanation. None are really needed. Some questions were raised because of my lack of knowledge so
Viviane Crystal
Emotionally bereft, haunted by poverty, cynical of religion and politics, James Joyce spends his whole life determined to grasp every experience to its dregs. Edna O'Brien masterfully conveys how these attitudes and consequent behaviors both attracted and repulsed professional and consumer readers throughout Joyce's stressful, conflict-ridden life. In the beginning of his life, he moves from being an ardent Catholic to one who projects his hatred of his own lusts upon the priests who formerly in ...more
James Joyce was an author who could easily have been classified as mad or brilliant or perhaps both. Edna O'Brien gives us a glimpse into James Joyce's unconventional life in her novel, James Joyce: A Life. I wanted to read this book because James Joyce is on my list of authors whose books I need to read. I've had Dubliners sitting on my shelf unread for the longest time. However I have managed to read a few of his works so I didn't feel totally unprepared.
Edna O'Brien touches on various points
Bob R Bogle
Edna O'Brien's book about James Joyce in the Penguin Lives Series is short, sweet, and devastating in its sorrowfulness.

Having now racked up quite a few words in the fiction game myself, I can now relate to this book in a very different way than I would have a few years ago. This book will mean something quite different to another writer as opposed to a reading fan of James Joyce. The fact that O'Brien is herself a writer means this slender volume contains certain natural insights that another m
no doubt in my mind that james joyce was a genius. and an uncontrolled genius when it came to language play. what i can not yet decide is if this uncontrolled genius of jj's was/is good for literature or not. i may never come to a firm conclusion nor do i need to. his work stands alone.

edna o'brien's review of joyce, his life, and his major works helps me to understand the irish genius shot through and through with language play and story telling.

i remain convinced however that i would not have
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
I love writers on writers. O'Brien's biography of James Joyce is as boisterous and playful as Joyce's own prose. This is a reader's biography, full of fantastic vocabulary and mischievous, serpentine phrasing. Those familiar with Joyce's life will likely learn nothing new, but the passion and joy O'Brien has for Joyce makes revisiting his life exciting; for those new to James Joyce, this biography is a bit like baptism-by-fire. The reader is plunged in to Joyce's life with little explication of ...more
Biography is a tricky art, no less in need of writerly skills than novel writing. The subject is a character who needs to be fleshed out and developed, with conflict and resolution picked from the myriad trivia of day to day activity, into a plotline. What we end up with is not the sum of a life, but a perspective; as much fiction as fact. So it makes sense that the Penguin Lives series uses well-known novelists to create their short biographies. As with Jane Smiley’s Dickens: A Life, Edna O’B ...more
O’Brien’s biography of Joyce is written in a Joycean style: when she is writing about his life while he was working on Ulysses her narrative mimics the style of Ulysses, and when she writes about his life when he was working on Finnegan’s Wake she mimics the style of that book. The technique is good because it gives a sense of the work with the life. O’Brien’s book is also well balanced: despite being an avowed fan of Joyce the author, she is unflinching in revealing what a lousy person he was. ...more
U. Cronin
Deceptively simple little book. A gem! Edna O'Brien writes delicately and with a gentle beauty. It's not a comprehensive biography, but a series of sketches in chronological order. Great insights and much context is given. A great place to start one's Joycean journey.
An afternoon read. (Goofing on the job).
Gregory Rothbard
Edna O'Brien does a good job of giving an introduction to Joyce (the complicated author). Joyce was a genius beyond his period or our period of understanding. The genius probably frustrated the author. The book shares the man, who was profound and challenging to the modern man. We love Joyce even when he might make us mad. He was a critical author who's writing was a paragon of free verse and feeling of home. Edna O'Brien shows us why Joyce's writing is worth the time and effort to make understa ...more
I've read several in the Penguin Lives series. This volume is quite good and gives a nice overview of Joyce's life in all it's complications.
The good old indo has been doing their biography of great Irish persons again and there are quite a selection available. Edna'O Briens book on Joyce I found a wonderful read. She adopts some of his stylistics and mingles his own story with the narrative of his incredible work. It is a wonderful insight into the mind of a genius and having lived in Dublin for mnay years one can get a sense of the city from O'Brien as one does from Joycer. Thoroughly enjoyed this book.
This book made me want to go back and re-read Ulysses, the revised version. And the Dubliners. And Portrait of Artist as a Young Man, which I've read twice.
Excellent book, insightful and as close to Joyce as you will get through a biography. O'Brien writes in the style of Joyce, interconnects the man to the works that he breathed, and he lived. The style of writing, the brevity of the chapters and conciseness of detail makes this also a good book for those who have no interest in Joyce, due alone to the style of writing of O'Brien.
Having read Irish novelist Edna O'Brien fairly recently, I was interested in her perspective on Joyce. This biography taught me many things about him and it was an engaging read. Of course, not being a Joyce scholar of any kind, I can't really have an informed opinion about what she writes of him. Still, this may give me the courage to tackle Ulysses again in time for Bloomsday.
Perhaps the most frustrating of all the books in the Penguin Lives series...occassionally there is good factual material on Joyce, but the style of writing is almost unreadable...i think the author was trying to use the same Joyce might have used had he written this book...but it would work for Joyce, whereas it doesn't for Edna O'Brien...
Erwin Maack
"O jovem reconhecia que a família era um ninho do qual devia voar, mas também sabia que aquelas criaturas encalhadas e aprisionadas, a mãe passiva, o pai furioso, os irmãos e irmãs acovardados e perplexos, constituíam o potente material de suas obras futuras." (página 18)
I've never read any Joyce, and thought this might be a good way to decide if he were worth my time. OBrien's biography is quite wonderful, and I think probably as close to Joyce as I feel the need to get. It did make me want to read more Edna OBrien, though.
Perfect biography of James Joyce, the words flow like a rive and you can see, feel and hear James Joyce in each word. I felt like I've met James Joyce after reading this book. Describing it as a biography would be unjust, it is a perfect piece of literature.
Gary Christensen
Aug 20, 2008 Gary Christensen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Joyceians
Recommended to Gary by: Saw it on the shelf.
Edna O'Brien does well. I have to admit it turned me on Joyce a little. Be it Catholicism, alcohol or whatnot, we should try to get past it. Instead, Joyce was consumed by his demons and rather a nightmare for those around him.
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Edna O’Brien (b. 1930), an award-winning Irish author of novels, plays, and short stories, has been hailed as one of the greatest chroniclers of the female experience in the twentieth century. She is the 2011 recipient of the Frank O’Connor Prize, awarded for her short story collection Saints and Sinners. She has also received, among other honors, the Irish PEN Award for Literature, the Ulysses Me ...more
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