Last semester I took a seminar class on James Joyce, and of course no class on Joyce would be complete without reading Ulysses. We spent the last halfLast semester I took a seminar class on James Joyce, and of course no class on Joyce would be complete without reading Ulysses. We spent the last half of the semester on Ulysses, and now that I've reviewed both Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist, I think it's finally time for me to talk about my experiences with Joyce's most famous/infamous novel.
Ulysses picks up approximately one year after Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ends, and begins with our old friend Stephen Dedalus, who is navigating the world of Dublin, working as a teacher, and still trying to be an artist in a place that continuously leaves him feeling isolated, alone, and without a home. While the first three chapters focus on Stephen, the rest of the book focuses on a new character, the famous Leopold Bloom, a Dublin Jew who, after eating a breakfast of mutton kidney, leaves the house to go about his daily business, all-the-while knowing that his wife, Molly, is planning an affair later that afternoon. That knowledge, the isolation he feels from his fellow Dubliners, the death of his young son ten years ago, and many other things weigh on his mind as we follow him about the affairs of his day. His path crosses and recrosses that of Stephen, and eventually the two outcasts finally meet and have a real conversation. Taking place in slightly less than 24 hours, Ulysses is an epic of the ordinary, a single day that contains every conceivable high and low.
Now, if you've ever heard anything about Ulysses, I'm sure you've heard that it's nearly impossible to read. It has gained a nearly mythic status in the bookish world as an impenetrable wall of stylistic experimentation and dense allusion. The only hope for the intrepid reader is to consult many guides and source-books that will lead them through the labyrinthine. To be honest with you, this is partially true. There were plenty of times when I didn't know what was happening, and I assure you that I missed most of the allusions and references to historical events. And yes, I did use a guide when I read it, which was a big help. More importantly, I also had a class full of people to discuss each chapter with and to keep me on schedule. (I do recommend reading this book with a friend. It's more fun that way.) But I want to make one thing very clear:
The myth is only partially true.
Because while I did not catch many of the allusions and references, I mostly understood what was happening in terms of plot and location. While I may not have understood the meaning of every sentence, I did understand the meaning of most paragraphs. And while I didn't always see exactly how each stylistic invention connected thematically to Bloom's journey, I could certainly appreciate the beauty and craft of Joyce's writing. Reading Ulysses is like being at the ocean; you have to let the waves of text wash over you without trying to analyze every single piece of sand. Understanding every single allusion is not necessary to enjoy the novel as a whole. You might miss a few of the jokes, but I promise you will be ok. The guide I used and which I would highly recommend, James Joyce A to Z, had brief summaries of each chapter in terms of plot and any major thematic elements, and that is all I needed in order to thoroughly enjoy myself. I think that oftentimes we as readers get too caught-up in "getting" the book that we forget to really read it. Ulysses is, first and foremost, an experience. If you get too caught up in trying to "understand" it, you'll miss all the fun.
Fun? Yes, fun, because Ulysses is a deeply funny, witty, engaging, and beautiful book. First of all, Joyce is a phenomenal writer, and it would be a challenge to find a novel with more beautiful or more varied writing than this one. Some passages are just heart-stopping in their elegance. I literally stopped and reread some passages just so I could hear them again; they were that beautiful. Others were incredibly technically impressive, showing Joyce's amazing command of the English language (and others). Joyce's amazing skills as a writer mean that he is capable of making the wittiest puns and the funniest satires I have ever read. No, really. From the pub to the graveyard, from political arguments to prostitution, from the romantic novel to the epic catalog, there is nothing that Joyce can't laugh at. I never thought I would say this, but Ulysses literally made me laugh out loud. But of course this novel isn't all fun and games. There are tender, honest moments here more touching than nearly anything else put into print. There is heartbreak here, not of the cheesy faux-tragic kind that you find in a Nicholas Sparks novel, but honest emotion felt by ordinary people in situations that are all too real. Though Ulysses very often made me laugh, on a number of occasions it also made me cry. It touched me, because it spoke to that part of me (and, I think, of many of us) that knows what it's like to feel alone, regretful, and lost. That realism, that honesty of emotion and situation, is what sets Ulysses apart. The strange style, the encyclopedic allusions, the weird diversions, all of these serve to represent reality in all of its complexity, beauty, and sadness. Ulysses is funny, crafty, beautiful, and heartbreaking, but it is all of those things because it is real.
If you've ever read my reviews before, you'll notice that this one is rather different. This time I haven't talked very much about technique or writing style, though really this would be the perfect novel to do that. And part of me does want to pull out my analytical brain and tell you all about Joyce's tricks and techniques and themes. I would feel accomplished for breaking down such a complex novel, and you would maybe feel like you learned something. But I don't think I'm going to do that this time. This time I think I'm going to focus on other things.
Because despite all the intellectual enjoyment I got from untangling and discussing the themes and techniques, and despite the aesthetic enjoyment I found in Joyce's language, what struck me the most about Ulysses was it's emotional honesty, especially in the characterization. For the first three chapters I felt nothing but empathy and pity for Stephen. I wanted to be his big sister, to comfort him, to let him know that he wasn't alone and that he could make it. And then I met Leopold Bloom, and slowly, cautiously, not without reservation, I fell for him, completely and utterly. Not in a romantic way, but as a human being, an all-too-real human being who had emotions and quirks that I could see and understand like those of an old friend. I fell in love with the way that he always tries to figure things out, to calculate, explain, and reason, even if his explanations are often incorrect, more pseudoscience than real science. I fell in love with his desire to please everyone, to make everyone happy, to avoid conflict wherever possible. I love the way he always walks on the sunny side of the street, is conscientious about his money, and loves food. I wanted nothing more in the world for him to actually meet Stephen, because I needed to see what would happen when these two characters whom I cared so much about finally met. And yes, sometimes Bloom creeped me out a little with his thoughts about sex or bodily functions. Sometimes I got annoyed with him for being so passive, and I yelled at him to stop being such a pushover already. But when he had the chance to finally show some courage, I cheered him on with all of my heart, and when he stood up for Stephen my heart nearly burst I was so proud of him. Leopold Bloom was so lonely, so hopeful, and so real, and in the end it was the force of his character (and, to a lesser extent, Stephen's) that really made Ulysses shine.
Ulysses is a novel that takes place in a single day, and yet somehow seems to encompass the whole world. It's strange and difficult and sometimes frustrating, and to be honest I wouldn't recommend it to those who don't like their books to be a puzzle or who get frustrated when they don't understand what is going on. But if you do like a challenge, then I think you'll find that every frustration in Ulysses is paid back a thousand times over in beauty and enjoyment. I promise that you won't catch everything on your first read-through; I know I didn't. But that did not take away from my enjoyment of the novel in the slightest. I know I'll come back to it some day, maybe a chapter at a time here or there, and that no matter when or how often I return it will always have something new to offer me.
Rating: 5+ Recommendations: Don't get too weighed down with guides. Just read it and enjoy it, and check chapter summaries or historical events if you get lost. Ulysses is an experience, so just dive in....more
If you looked over the kinds of books I tend to read and review, you might be surprised to learn that I had never read The Odyssey. To be honest withIf you looked over the kinds of books I tend to read and review, you might be surprised to learn that I had never read The Odyssey. To be honest with you, I've always been a little scared by classical literature, so I put off reading this for a long time. But finally I decided to put it on my Classics Club list and tackle the thing once and for all. Now that I'm done, I don't know why I waited for so long to read this wonderful book. The Odyssey is a truly lovely and beautiful poem, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I didn't know a lot about The Odyssey going in to it. I knew it was the story of Odysseus from the time he leaves the Trojan War to the time he arrives home in Ithaca, and I knew about some of the monsters and goddesses he ran into on his journey, but that was about it. Because of this, I was expecting a story filled with action, daring feats, horrible danger, and crafty escapes. While all those things were there, I was surprised at how much of the book takes place in a domestic setting, focusing on things like food, clothes, bedding, and talking. Homer seems to linger over the details of the places that Odysseus visits, giving beautiful detail to the feasting and sacrifices, the fruitfulness of the lords' gardens, the women's talent in weaving, the color of the wine, the comfort of the beds, the beauty of the gold dinnerware, and the hospitality of his hosts. This was probably my biggest surprise while reading The Odyssey, but it also turned out to be my favorite part of the book. The descriptions of these domestic pleasures are all so loving and so beautiful that the reader feels a true love for the comforts of home and understands exactly why Odysseus wants so badly to get back to Ithaca. I wanted nothing more than for Odysseus to get back to Ithaca and experience the joy of being at home again. The care and love that Homer put into those descriptions made even everyday things seem truly lovely, and that warm loving glow was by far my favorite part of the book.
Another thing that surprised me about The Odyssey was how much of the story is given to us after the fact, told by Odysseus to his hosts. I thought this was an interesting device, because it puts the reader in the same place as Odysseus's host. We know who he is, but we're waiting for him to tell us what happened to him. Once we get caught up on the action and Odysseus makes the last leg of his journey and arrives in Ithaca, we see even more of his storytelling skills. He goes into disguise, and makes up stories about who he is and where he's from to many people before he kills the suitors and reveals his identity. These stories seem to be a way of fleshing out Odysseus's character. The fact that he can make up these stories on the spot shows that he is smart and cunning. The way he varies the length of his stories and the details he includes depending on who he's talking to shows how he feels about these people. The degrees to which people believe him and the way they react to his stories serves as a means for character development for them as well. I think the different kinds of stories and storytelling that happen in The Odyssey are incredibly interesting, and I intend to pay closer attention to them next time I read it.
One of my favorite little things about The Odyssey was the emphasis on hospitality and generosity to strangers and travelers. I knew that hospitality was an important part of early Greek culture, but I was constantly struck by the difference between the reception that Odysseus gets and the way we treat strangers in our society. When Odysseus came to a place, he was bathed, given a cloak to wear if he didn't have one, brought to the table, and fed like a member of the family. All this happened before they ever asked him his name or where he was from. When they knew his name and heard his story, they gave him gifts and treasures and helped him to get home. He was always given a warm bed to sleep in and more than enough food to eat, and was treated with respect. I know that this is just a story, but I still found it to be incredibly refreshing. I wish that our society would focus a little more on hospitality and generosity like they do in The Odyssey.
I've heard many people complain that they found The Odyssey boring, with dry descriptions and long stretches where nothing happens. It may just be that I read a better translation than other people (my boyfriend, who has often picked The Odyssey as his favorite book, recommends the Fitzgerald, and I agree) but I didn't have any of these problems. I found the pacing to be very good, with most sections moving on to other sections in a timely and satisfying manner. The ending, when Odysseus and Penelope are finally reunited, is absolute perfection, and I would not have changed a single word of it. The descriptions are vivid, colorful, and utterly lovely in every way. Though I was intimidated by classical literature and afraid of being bored, within the first few chapters The Odyssey had completely won me over. I am glad that I finally read this thoroughly lovely and enjoyable book.
As I mentioned in my review of Dubliners, I recently took a seminar class on James Joyce. After we finished discussing Dubliners, our next book was JoAs I mentioned in my review of Dubliners, I recently took a seminar class on James Joyce. After we finished discussing Dubliners, our next book was Joyce's first novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Filled with lyrical prose and vivid imagery, this semi-autobiographical story of Stephen Dedalus’s "intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening" and "passage from university student to independent artist" is an excellent first glimpse into the experimental style of Joyce's mature works.
Portrait of the Artist is, first and foremost, a portrait of the Stephen Dedalus. It is, in many ways, a traditional coming-of-age story, following our hero from his youngest school days through college and his budding life as an artist. What separates Portrait from other coming-of-age stories is the style. To give the reader a proper portrait of Stephen, Joyce uses a free-indirect style in which the narrator is colored by Stephen's perception and knowledge. The descriptions, imagery, and style all reflect Stephen's mental and aesthetic development. This allows the reader to see the world as Stephen sees it. When Stephen is very young, the descriptions and ideas expressed by both Stephen and the narrator are the kind of thing that a young child would notice. The dramas of school life, the stories told to him by his parents, and family arguments over politics all loom large in Stephen's mind. As he gets older and his mind is occupied by religious uncertainties, the style becomes more like a sermon and religious imagery creeps into normal descriptions. As he looses his faith and becomes more interested in poetry and aesthetics, the style becomes more luminous and lyrical, images become symbols, and the words themselves are filled with poetic beauty. The limited narrator and the matching of style, word-choice, and imagery to Stephen's mental state make reading this book the closest thing to plunging into a character's consciousness that you can get short of Ulysses.
Portrait of the Artist isn't just an incredibly realistic coming-of-age story; it is also filled with social, political, and religious commentary. One of Stephen's early memories is of his family arguing about Parnell and Irish revolutionary politics. In this one scene the reader is shown the conflict between Ireland and the colonial power of England and the way that the Catholic church becomes tangled in the political struggles of the time. These themes, Irish nationalism, English oppression, and Catholicism, come back throughout Joyce's work, and make up a realistic (if not always flattering) portrait of Dublin. Stephen's time in a Catholic school, his brief desire to join a monastery, and his eventual loss of faith show the many ways in which people could react to the Irish Catholicism of Dublin. His encounters with Irish revolutionaries and his reluctance to join them provides a commentary both on British colonialism and on the occasional dogmatism of the Gaelic movement in Ireland. These themes, along with other Joycian themes such as loneliness, paralysis, and alcoholism, recur throughout his works, and add yet another dimension to this already multifaceted book.
Portrait of the Artist is a very different kind of book than Dubliners. Unlike Dubliners, which had a mostly traditional realistic style, Portrait of the Artist represents Joyce's first real move toward the experimentation with style for which he is famous. As such, it is the perfect choice for those who have read Dubliners and want to read more. While Portrait of the Artist was, admittedly, not my favorite of Joyce's works that I read this semester, this is possibly only because of how much I enjoyed both Dubliners and Ulysses. If you are interested in reading Ulysses (hint: do it) you should definitely read Portrait of the Artist first, because Stephen comes back to play an important role in Ulysses. But even without the connection to Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an impressive book in its own right. With lyrical prose, psychological depth, and social commentary, it is truly an impressive first novel.
Rating: 4 Stars Recommendations: don't try to catch everything at once, just enjoy it. Read it slowly when you have enough time to concentrate. Enjoy the prose and the plays on words.
If you're interested in Joyce, take a look at my review of Dubliners and stay tuned for my upcoming review of Ulysses....more
I've become very interested in critical theory recently, especially in the areas of Marxist Criticism and Cultural Studies. I've been reading some ofI've become very interested in critical theory recently, especially in the areas of Marxist Criticism and Cultural Studies. I've been reading some of the primary texts of these movements in an effort to understand where they are coming from and how they can be used in literary criticism and beyond. So far I have finished a number of short excerpts and essays as well as two books, including The Long Revolution by Raymond Williams. While all of this reading has been truly enlightening, The Long Revolution has stood out to me as one of the most interesting and mindblowing pieces of nonfiction I have ever read.
In this book, Williams sets out to describe the state of literature, democracy, education, and culture in England, how it got there, and where it's going. He does so by tracing the history of various institutions, including public education, the popular press, and standard English, and showing how they have become what they are. Using many (somewhat exhausting) pages of facts and statistics as evidence, Williams comes to stunning and revolutionary conclusions. I was absolutely blown away by his ideas because they seemed so right and felt so honest.
First, Williams sets down definitions for important terms that he will be using for the rest of the books. These terms have so many uses in casual speech that he defines the way he wants the reader to understand them in the context of his book. He defines what it means to be creative, and shows how all people create to some degree in their everyday lives. He also defines culture, not just as art and clothes and the lie, but as structures of feeling, the way people thought and felt about things, the general sense of what it was like to live in a time. Once those definitions are complete, he shows the various ways that an individual can relate to society as a whole, and the different ideas of what it means to be individualistic verses social. His great gift is subtlety, and he can show all the important social reasons why individualism became the dominant idea of how people relate to society while also showing how pure individualism has failed society and is now being reevaluated by a new generation of people. The chapters Individuals and Societies and Images of Society and the end of Part 1 left me literally speechless. It's Williams's balance and fairness, his reliance on research, his refusal to be pedantic or dogmatic, that makes this book so refreshing and so effective.
So often, when we talk about culture we blame low quality arts, be they books, movies, or music, on the masses, as if the working class were inherently less intelligent than the rich or entitled. Williams doesn't just argue against that, he shows with real evidence that much of that classist thinking goes against the actual history of these institutions. He shows, for instance, that the relatively low state of the popular press (magazines and newspapers) today is not, as many people think, the fault of the poor taste of the masses, but instead that the popular press has been affected by changes in printing, distribution, taxation, advertising, and consolidation of ownership more than anything else. The glut of sensational tabloids is sold just as much to the rich as to the poor, and the changes in newspaper styles and distributions are independent of education reforms that taught more of the working class to read. The proliferation of low quality books, movies, music, and newspapers, he argues, is not the fault of the inherent bad taste of the masses, but a side-effect of the ownership of these cultural institutions by speculators who are only interested in making money. Quality artists, interested in furthering the art form, cannot compete with the scale of distribution that the large companies produce. The problem, it seems, is not that people are inherently stupid or that the lower classes have inherently bad taste, but that our current system of capitalism makes our cultural institutions into a matter of speculation and profit. Anyone who is interested in independent publishing should absolutely read Part 3, Britain in the 1960s, which looks at the publishing industry in a way I've never seen before.
Williams writes in a style that is easy to read and understand. Although there are some slow sections where he is setting down definitions or charting history using facts and figures, his conclusions are always strong and flow naturally from his research. The book is older, published in 1961, so I'm sure it has mistakes and is outdated in some places, but most of it still reads as being contemporary and relevant. His structure is perfect, his writing is incredibly readable, and his ideas are engaging. I don't know that I have ever enjoyed academic writing so much, and I thoroughly intend to read more of his books very soon.
Rating: 5 stars. Recommendations: The statistics and definitions can get very boring, but the conclusions they support are worth all the waiting. Note: Many people see this book as a sequel or companion to his earlier book Culture and Society, which I have not read. I found it perfectly readable without having read the other book. That said, I imagine that Culture and Society is also very good....more
First of all, I would like to say that I bought this book for entirely biased reasons. Michael Parker, aside from being the author of multiple novelsFirst of all, I would like to say that I bought this book for entirely biased reasons. Michael Parker, aside from being the author of multiple novels and short story collections, was my professor for the Contemporary Novel class I took this semester. I bought The Geographical Cure because I absolutely loved his class. Parker is an incredibly intelligent reader and critic, and his insights into issues as big as structure and as detailed as syntax made me curious as to how he handled those things in his own writing. Though he is mostly a novelist, The Geographical Cure was the first book of his I could get a hold of, and luckily this collection of short stories and a novella did not disappoint.
Set in the south, Parker's stories have a sense of timelessness that mimics the long hot summer afternoons I grew up with. While the stories vary in length, they all seem to take an indeterminate amount of time to read, existing in their own space and time. The writing is very readable and was never a chore. The narration sometimes rambles and occasionally gets too caught up in the thoughts of the characters at convenient times, but it is mostly clear and realistic, and it never gets to the point where I wanted to skip over a descriptive passage. Parker's stories are focused on character and place, and so the thoughts of the characters are central to the development of the plot, and that keeps them from getting boring or holding up the story. Overall I'd say that the stories in this collection wander, but with purpose.
My favorite piece in this collection was the novella, The Golden Hour. When a bus breaks down in a small North Carolina town, it brings together a prim and privileged teacher, an every-man administrator, an old beach-music star, and a young communist guitarist, and forces them to confront their pasts and how they relate to their present. Told in alternating chapters from three different characters, this novella shows Parker's masterful use of voice and perspective. After I read the first chapter I had one perspective on the characters and what was going on. By the time I finished the second, I was forced to question everything I had initially thought. But this wasn't a simple case of an unreliable narrator. Instead, Parker convincingly wrote from the perspectives of two people who didn't see the world the same way, and I came out of the novella thinking that they were both right, in a way. The accuracy and realism with which he created his characters was truly impressive. That and the firm sense of place that they occupied combine to make this novella both completely convincing and totally interesting. As a big fan of realistic and engaging characters, I thoroughly enjoyed The Golden Hour.
The short stories in the book were also very good. They ranged in length, from the short Love Wild, about a man's relationship with a woman and her emotionally challenged brother, to the medium-length The Little Marine, about a boy taken on a trip across the country when his mother runs away with her lover, to the rather long As Told To, in which a man is given his brother's memoir to proof-read and has to confront years of pent-up emotion. Each of these stories is a separate world, with fully-formed characters and a strong sense of place. Though some were more forgettable than others, each provided a reading experience that was thoroughly rewarding. If these are the kinds of short stories Michael Parker writes, I cannot wait to read his novels.
Rating: 4 stars
Michael Parker has a new book coming out in Spring 2013, Five Thousand Dollar Car, which I was lucky enough to hear an excerpt of at a reading earlier this semester. Based on what I heard, I am very much looking forward to its release. Keep an eye out for it!...more
I am consistently impressed with Eliot's use of language. My goodness, does the man know how to write a poem. While I'm not a huge fan of all the AnglI am consistently impressed with Eliot's use of language. My goodness, does the man know how to write a poem. While I'm not a huge fan of all the Anglican imagery, I was absolutely floored by at least one passage in each of the large sections. Eliot displays some incredible poetic craftsmanship, which was especially evident to me in The Dry Salvages, but was obviously present throughout the work. There is no doubt that Eliot is a master craftsman. I absolutely loved the way that images and phrases kept returning and changing across the work, adding meanings and taking on new connotations with each repetition. I feel like that varied repetition gave the poem a very organic feel, like Eliot was thinking through things and trying to figure out the very things he was explaining. That conversational, stream-of-consciousness style really keeps The Four Quartets from feeling too pedantic or weighed down with Anglican symbolism, and preserves a sense of integrity throughout.
I'm not going to pretend like I understood even half of this work on the first read-through, but I was certainly impressed enough to want to read it again in the future. I only hope that next time I'll read an edition with notes so I can understand the poem more thoroughly. The Four Quartets moved me with their beauty and honesty, and that is, in the end, what I value most in a work of art. ...more
This semester I have been lucky enough to take a seminar class on James Joyce. We spent the semester reading and discussing as much Joyce as we could,This semester I have been lucky enough to take a seminar class on James Joyce. We spent the semester reading and discussing as much Joyce as we could, and it was absolutely wonderful. Now that the semester is over, I want to tell you all about Joyce, starting with his early collection of short stories, Dubliners.
Dubliners is, at first glance, an unassuming book. It is written in a largely realistic style, with none of the experimental stylistic elements for which Joyce is famous. Despite that, Dubliners is a truly unique book with just as much depth, detail, and resonance as the best full-length novels. The returning themes of paralysis, alienation, and political oppression are so embedded in the characters, dialogue, and action that they never feel preachy or overdone. Since Joyce returns to many of these themes in his later novels, Dubliners is a perfect introduction for anyone interested in tackling Joyce for the first time. Its emotional honesty, thematic resonance, and beautiful writing make it a worthwhile book for any reader.
Though Dubliners is a collection of short stories, these stories are all connected by setting and theme, as well as a few recurring characters. The city of Dublin, with its many pubs, shops, dirty streets, and busy port, is practically a character, and the gravitational pull it has on the characters holds together the collection, making it a unified and coherent whole. The stories are also connected by theme, the most striking of which are isolation and paralysis. Many of the characters in these stories are lonely or disengaged from society, trying but unable to make meaningful connections with other people. In many stories, a character seems to have a chance at escape from their lonely or unfulfilling life, but at the crucial moment find they themselves unable to act and end up remaining exactly where they were. Some realize the chance that they miss, while some are unaware of having a chance of freedom, and still others are even unaware that they are trapped. Dublin, and the paralytic unhappiness that Joyce saw there, seem for most an unbeatable force.
Despite all of that, Dubliners does have some brighter moments. Many of the stories end with epiphanies, in which the characters have realizations of either good or bad things about themselves, Dublin, or humanity. These epiphanies are written in the most beautiful and luminescent prose, and whatever their subject, were always rewarding to read. In fact, all of the writing in Dubliners is detailed and beautiful, meaning that despite the depressing subject matter, I never once got bored. Joyce is not only a talented writer, he is also a subtle one. Each word and phrase is carefully chosen to contribute the the mood, theme, or characterization, meaning that each story has nearly infinite reread value. Of course, Joyce uses his craft so well that I often didn't even notice it, making the stories that much more enjoyable to read.
While of course some stories are better than others, all of the stories in Dubliners are of at least good quality, and most of them are really great. Despite the overall high quality of the book as a whole, there is one story that stands out from the others as truly exceptional. "The Dead" is the last story in the collection, as well as the longest. It starts out quietly enough, with a middle-aged man named Gabriel going to a Christmas party held by his two elderly aunts. The rest of the story chronicles Gabriel's thoughts and actions at that party. It could be argue that not much happens in this story, and yet the ending, with Gabriel and his wife talking back at their home, is by far the most moving epiphany in Dubliners. This story shows Joyce's skill at writing better than any other. Somehow, Joyce manipulates the seemingly-mundane elements of the story to create a conclusion in which even simple phrases become charged with emotion and meaning. Though I don't usually comment on my own feelings in reviews, I feel the need to tell you all that this story moved me to tears and left me utterly speechless. Even now, as I think over the story, the phrase "Snow was general all over Ireland" gives me chills. If the only thing Joyce ever wrote had been "The Dead," he would still be a great writer. It's that good.
"The Dead," with it's perfect structure, subtle descriptions, and moving ending, is a truly great short story on its own, but it gains so much more from being placed at the end of such a well-written and honest collection. The themes and images from the earlier stories only enhance and expand the ideas in the last story, while that story serves as a coda and a commentary on the others. The conversational nature of this relationship, and the relationship of any story to any other story or to the whole, makes reading Dubliners truly worthwhile. Whether you've already read it twenty times or you've never picked it up before, reading Dubliners will be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Rating: 5 Stars. Recommendations: Read it, and if you can't do that, at least read "The Dead." I promise you won't regret it.
Stay on the lookout for my upcoming reviews of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. ...more