John's Reviews > A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
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's review
Jan 28, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: literature
Read in January, 2008

An semi-autobiographic novel, featuring a fictionalized character as Joyce's alter-ego, it traces his formative childhood years that led him ambivalently away from a vocation in the clergy and into that of literature.

There are sections which appealed to me (a priestly sermon on the damnation of ones soul into hell is particularly vivid), but by and large the plot line was too disjointed for me to engage with. Uncertain of exactly where I had been or what path the novel was taking me, I found myself struggling through long pages in search of moments of clarity.

There were moments where Joyce's deft handling of the english language carried me away from my confusion over the plot line, but unfortunately these were not frequent enough for me to forgive the novel as a whole. There were few, if any, characters that were developed well enough to carry my interest and advance the plot.

As I neared the end of Portrait I felt cheated. One of the reasons I had selected this novel was the desire to read a classic of modern literature (it is ranked #3 on the modern language's top novels of the 20th century), and ultimately I was left questioning my ability to grasp the depths of this novel.

For a well written review espousing a contrary opinion refer to Mohsen, 17Dec07.
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03/20/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Jeff I totally agree with your assessment.

message 2: by Myrina (new)

Myrina I too agree. On the other hand, maybe it is our ability to grasp the depths of this novel that is lacking--just sayin'.

Jeff I'm sure there is some of that, but there are plenty of difficult books I've read that made me want to figure them out, whereas this one was not enjoyable or interesting enough for me to care.

message 4: by Myrina (new)

Myrina Well put--agreed.

Shmuli Cohen I think if you understand the constructs of de-lineation in post-modern literature and are well versed to 'read' the stream of conscious thoughts of Joyce as he meanders from idea to thought backwards and forwards jumping years or days then the difficulties in negotiating the plot take second to the intricacies of the writing which itself is a precise and emotional view of language and how we think. Proust says it a lot better than me. It's not an easy book to read. If you want easy there is Twilight or 50 Shades or even one of the many modern fiction authors you can buy for $1 at any trade sale. What Joyce does is give is a lesson in thinking and how we express sub consciously how thinking. It's just difficult for us mere mortals to grip it simply because we think differently to the way we speak which is different to the way we converse which is not how we interact.

Jeff Nah.

message 7: by Nan (new) - rated it 1 star

Nan Yeah, you're totallyu right! It is a very difficult book to read and I don't understand how can somebody like it. I got lost in it a lot of times -not in a good way, and I finished it just because. It also let me down. Maybe, like you said, it was too deep for me :/

Kitty Myers Agreed. "Disjointed" came to my mind too as I read it. Okay, I read all but the last 33 pages. I just didn't care enough to finish it. Like you, the most interesting sections to me were the sermons by the priest.

Kitty Myers PS...For me, it's not a matter of 'easy' reading vs difficult; it's a matter of enjoyment vs tedium.

message 10: by Mark (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mark Shmuli "...What Joyce does is give a lesson in thinking..."

You forgot to add: "...and writing while extremely drunk."

You're welcome.

message 11: by Lori (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lori Oh, Lord, I HATED the sermons. I can't believe those were some people's favorite passages! I read this book because I thought I should and I finished it for the same reason, and because Joyce writes so beautifully. As a "coming of age" novel in the twenties I am sure it resonated. I liked the glimpse into life in those times. I just could not relate to his tortured reflections on religion and Irish politics.

message 12: by Elin (last edited Mar 09, 2015 07:03AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Elin Just want to say that I hate the abysmal condescension of comments like

"It's not an easy book to read. If you want easy there is Twilight or 50 Shades"

FFS. There are not two options: shite like 50 shades of grey or dust-dry tedium. There are books which are both well written AND compelling.

My complaint is precisely that I don't believe anyone, especially any child, DOES think like Stephen Dedalus. That's not a stream of conscious or anything like it. If you want a really gifted and compelling novel which portrays real HUMAN thought and age-appropriate, human behaviour: Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, and To Kill a Mockingbird. All have the advantage of being easy to read - not because they are pulp fiction, but because they are superbly written.

Stephen Dedalus does not think or talk like a kid, or anyone in real life at all. It's more of a vessel for essay writing - and I HATE books that do that. If I want to read an essay, I'll read an essay, don't try to dress it up like icing a flipping ryvita.

And yes Lori - agreed, the sermons were almost insufferable. Stephen's attempts to reason intelligently after that suffered in my opinion because of obvious questions he fails to ask, and obvious critiques he fails to make. I can't take him serious as an earnest (oh so earnest) "intelligent" student after that. Mind you, only half way through so you never know.

message 13: by Jeff (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jeff I love that this thread gets new comments every once in awhile almost three years later. Yes, that 50 Shades comment was a straw man.

message 14: by Mark (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mark "...Straw man" = good.
"...abysmal condescension" = GREAT!

But Proust said it better. Heh.

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