This book is bulkier than Ulysses itself and I didn't like it one bit. I think the authors knew I wouldn't. In their preface they say
The notes may appear to labor an abundance of the obvious in order to render a few grains of the subtle and suggestive
This book is designed to be laid open beside the novel and to be read in tandem with it. Tandem reading, however, has its disadvantages.
I'll say. Especially when the front rider on the tandem is pedalling manically into the dangerous transcendent extreme edge of language itself and the back rider is steering towards a bricabrac shop he just spotted.
They suggest a plan : an "interrupted" reading of a chapter (i.e. checking every annotation) followed by an uninterrupted reading. Or even better :
Skim a sequence of notes, then read the annotated sequence in the novel with interruptions for consideration of those notes that seem crucial, then follow with an uninterrupted reading.
Yes, I think that's the best way. If you have no family, no pets and a private income.
The annotators are crushingly aware that they are actually wrecking a major part of JJ's work, which was to show the significance of the trivial (Bloom finally meets Stephen, but they part and don't become friends, that's it, no big drama folks, nothing to see). But by hammering every triviality with a big note this book changes the trivial into the significant by the very act of annotation.
But still, it's a useful book since it tries to explain everything in Ulysses which is no longer common knowledge.
And what is this thing called common knowledge now, anyway? I was speaking with an elderly female relative the other day (no names please) and in the conversation it became clear that she'd never in her long life heard of the idea that there might have been a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. Meanwhile I work in an office with a bunch of kids just out of university and I'd bet a crisp tenner that half of them wouldn't know who JFK was. So that means that almost everything in Ulysses isn't common knowledge anymore.
But my main objection to this probably inevitable and essential book, why I don't like it at all, is that it gives you, the reader of Ulysses (at least I hope you are) the idea that you ought to understand every bit of Ulysses, every damned reference to bits of Italian opera and Irish slang and Fenian history and the Latin mass and how much a Dublin hooker paid in rent and so on and so forth and really – big breath – you don't need to, you just don't, at all. JJ shoves all that glorious detail in as the woof and weft and particoloured pantaloons of his gartersnappingly real picture of dear dirty Dublin, so, you know, just breathe it all in, and as in your own real life, accept that there are about a thousand bits and bobs of conversations and half heard remarks and things that go by too quick on the tv and all of the onrush of frantic netsplurge and soundblurt of the day-to-day day which you won't quite get. And that's how it is.
But this book thinks you can get everything. It's just wrong.