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3.7 out of 5 stars
Finnegans Wake (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
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465 of 488 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Okay, this edition of Finnegans Wake may not exactly be dishonest, but it is disingenuous enough to be seriously misleading. Up front they tell you that the text of the book is taken from the first edition published in May of 1939. This is true, but it doesn't tell the whole story, and most people have no idea what it really means.
Finnegans Wake was originally published in 1939. The first edition was replete with errors and typos -- thousands of them. James Joyce spent the last two years of his life (he died in 1941) going through the text correcting the mistakes. An errata list comprising many single-spaced pages was printed in the back of the second edition, and the third edition had all of Joyce's corrections incorporated into the text. So the third edition is the definitive one.
But Penguin is reprinting the first edition. Get it? The text you'll be reading will have all of the typos that Joyce spent two years correcting -- uncorrected.
Viking does have the third edition of Finnegans Wake in print. It's smaller, with smaller type and not nearly as pretty a cover, but it's the text that Joyce approved. I would get that one (it has a white cover with a green stripe going across the middle of it), and leave this edition alone.
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340 of 367 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Finnegans Wake" is a novel for people who are tired of reading novels. The chapter summaries in the table of contents, and not the body of the novel itself, give evidence of a plot, which concerns the dream-consciousness of a man whose initials H.C.E. recur as an acronym at various points in the text and whose wife Anna Livia Plurabelle, sons Shem (the Penman) and Shaun (the Postman), and daughter Issy figure prominently among many other exotic and unexpected characters. However, the presentation is so nebulous and abstract that the novel resembles nothing else in literature, although the style looks deceptively easy to imitate.
Upon first looking at the pages of "Finnegans Wake," one inevitably must wonder what it's supposed to be. My explanation of it is an extension of my theory about "Ulysses," which is that "Ulysses" was Joyce's effort to write a novel that used every single existing word in the English language, or at least as many as he could. (Among its 400,000 words, "Ulysses" certainly has a much broader lexicon than any other novel of comparable length.) Having exhausted all the possibilities of English in "Ulysses," he had only one recourse for his next project, which was to create an entirely new language as a pastiche of all the existing ones; the result is "Finnegans Wake."
The language in "Finnegans Wake" is a continuum of puns, portmanteaus, disfigured words, anagrams, and rare scraps of straightforward prose. What Joyce does is exploit the way words look and sound in order to associate them with remote, unrelated ideas. For example, his phrase "Olives, beets, kimmells, dollies" may sound familiar to those who happen to know that the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet are aleph, bet, gimel, daled. "Psing a psalm of psexpeans, apocryphul of rhyme" recalls a nursery rhyme that may reside quietly in your most dormant memory cells, while "Where it is nobler in the main to supper than the boys and errors of outrager's virtue" sounds like a drunk auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Imaginary adjectives that pertain to letters of the English alphabet are employed to describe Dublin as a city "with a deltic origin and a nuinous end." "Finnegans Wake" is the ultimate in esoterica, and what you get out of it depends largely on your store of knowledge, so that upon completion, with a mutual wink at Joyce, you congratulate yourself for being so clever.
The text is supposed to reflect a dream or a dreamlike state, an imperfect rendering of hazily remembered pictures and thoughts, but it also evokes the multivocal babble one might hear in a crowded Irish pub, multiple rolling streams of lilting brogue-laden speech combining into a sort of rhythmic cacophony, a variegated procession of verbal images ranging from the mundane to the fantastical. It cannot be read in any conventional manner of reading prose; each sentence has a melody, and the words must be vocalized in the mind to hear the verbal music. It can be maddening if you try to make meaning of it all, but if you're familiar with Joyce's past work, you've already risked your sanity adequately to make it through "Finnegans Wake."
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140 of 158 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
To answer a few points made by other reviewers:
1) Yes, some people have finished this book. I have, and so have several people I know.
2) Some people enjoy this book. (see above).
3) It isn't just self-indulgence by academics. For example: a Professor of English Literature at Oxford University has said that it's not worth reading. Lots of academics have. These are people who 'know everything' for a job. Can you imagine how much FW annoys them?
4) It's hard. Yes, that's right, hard. But hard can be fun. Just like sex. (FW does take longer though).
5) The reason why lovers of Joyce sound so passionate about it is that they genuinely feel that way. For real. Imagine you'd fallen in love and noone around you had a clue what it felt like. You'd want to shake them and tell them.
6) It makes sense. To fully understand it (if that's possible) would take generations of study. But i) If you're reading for pleasure, not ego kicks, surely how much you get out matters more than what proportion of the book's meaning you can lay claim to, ii) like life, reading FW is made up of lots of small pleasures and ii) Lighten up!! It's funny! Anyway, when was the last time you 'fully' understood a book?
It's easy to see why the great majority of people would decide that they had other priorities. I respect that opinion. But please don't fling insults at a book that some of us love. Yes, love. Reading FW was a high-point of my life. Emotion and excitement: anger, frustration, joy, humour, delight, even boredom. Deep relationships are difficult. They hurt. And they make us more alive.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
I've just reached the end ... or is it the beginning? It's taken me six months, with Anthony Burgess' 'Here Comes Everybody' providing a basic and unsatisfactory commentary on this nightmare of a book. I can't really recommend anybody to read this unless you know exactly what you're letting yourself in for ... unlike Ulysses, which I believe everybody should attempt at some point in their lives. So why have I given it 5 stars? Because it simply had to be written.
Without the Wake, twentieth century fiction would have been simply an extension of the nineteenth century. This book is what sets us apart. Don't believe the people who tell you it's a joke - a genius like Joyce doesn't spend 15 years, resign himself to penury when a "Ulysses Lite" could have made him a rich man, and ultimately ruin his eyesight all for nothing more than the literary equivalent of a whoopee cushion. There are deep things here, it's just that they're buried so deep that it's mostly not worth the effort of mining them. But again, I've given it 5 stars because this book is like a nail bomb in a library (shhhhh!) - it destroyed everyone's perception of what could ever constitute literature. If the Wake can be created, anything is possible. The Wake gave the green light to everyone's wildest imaginings and bizarre method of telling it - after all, whatever you write it won't be as difficult or as slow or as mad or as painful as this work.
Don't let anybody tell you that there is an easy way into this book. Whichever way you approach it, however many primers and explanations you read, nothing will prepare you for 650 pages of dense dream-imagery written in polyglottal puns through which you grasp at anything that makes the slightest sense (and I mean slightest). The basic story of a publican dreaming over the repercussions of being caught urinating in a public park by two soldiers and then being accused of indecent exposure is by the by and of little import, because it is so thoroughly buried beneath hundreds of layers of Irish, oedipal and religious history, myth and gossip and the minutiae of everyday life transfigured by dream, that it would be easy to miss (and if you did, it wouldn't be a problem anyway - this is hardly narrative-driven). There are moments of comedy, but they're few and far between. The publican becomes the man-myth-mountain Finnegan, who represents Ireland, his forgiving and defending wife becomes Anna Livia Plurabella, the river Liffy and mother nature herself - reading the book is a battle that's impossible to win and you ultimately simply surrender yourself to the flow, the cycle of life which, like water taken from the sea to clouds to rain to rivers to sea to clouds .... takes you from the end to flow back to the beginning without even a full stop to halt things. I wondered whether it would make more sense the second time round, then decided that I didn't really care to find out.
So, be glad that you don't have to read this book, but you should all definitely celebrate that it was written.
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86 of 100 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2000
Format: Audio Cassette
Call me crazy, but I almost never stop reading a book I started. Sometimes I'm sorry I didn't give it up at first, but other times (e.g., "Moby Dick") I'm not.
It took me five years to read finnegan's wake, on and off. It is probably the hardest book to read in the English language (I won't go into Joyce's use of German, French, Latin, Hebrew, etc.)
But why is it worth it? What makes Finnegan's wake different from utter nonsense? A LOT. Many readers complain that they can only understand two or three points every page. True for me as well. But when I checked, the obscure points of the seemingly meaningless sentences *always* had some deeper meaning.
For example, let us start with the title: "Finnegans wake" (the apostrophe that appears in many editions is a mistake.) There is at least a triple meaning: "Finnegan's wake", the wake of the mystical hero; "finnegans wake" - the Irish are waking up; and "fin-again wake" - showing the cyclical nature of the dream history of this book.
Or take the year, 1132, that appears in the book quite a lot (sometimes in the guise of 566, which is 1132/2). It symbolizes the the circularity of history (11=10+1, starting to count again after reaching 10) and the fall of empires (bodies fall at 32 ft/sec^2).
Or take the case of the dreamer's son, who falls from the sky as "a bare godkin". It is both a description of his condition (a naked son of God) and a pun on Hamlet's "a bare bodkin" (an unsheated dagger.)
These are just three examples. But this is where Joyce's genius is - and the enjoyment of the book is. It's just plain fun to figure these things out - and when you *do* figure them out, the real meaning of the text, and the story, begins to show.
It's hard work, but it's worth it.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have been reading some of the positive and negative reviews of Finnegans Wake, and decided to post my own thoughts.

I think of Finnegans Wake as an experiment. It's really up to the reader to decide whether it is a successful experiment or not.

I kind of like it, but it probably wouldn't be a book I would take with me if I was going to be marooned on a desert island and could only take a few books with me. On the other hand, maybe I would, because it is a book that the more time you put into it the more it gives back. So if I was going to be on the island for a LONG time, Finnegans Wake would be a good choice.

Some folks have been saying there is no plot or characters. Well, yes there is. The main character is a fellow named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, HCE for short. He is a bar-owner in Dublin, Ireland. His wife is Anna Livia Plurabelle, ALP. They have two sons, usually called Shaun and Shem (short for Seamus), and a daughter named Issy. Also at the bar work an old woman named Kate and an old man named Sackerson. Other characters are the customers at the bar and schoolgirls who are friends of Issy.

The main plot concerns rumours that circulate about an incident involving HCE. These rumours are very vague, but they usually seem to be accusing HCE of some sort of sexual misbehavior in the park.

But Joyce has written the novel so that it can be read on many levels. HCE and his family stand for every human family, and for all of humanity. The rivalry between Shaun and Shem stand for all sorts of struggles between man and his "brother man". The two of them together come into conflict with HCE in a basic Oedipal struggle. HCE comes to stand for every person accused (rightly or wrongly) of misdoing. The whole thing is structured as a pattern that repeats itself over and over, from generation to generation, in families and whole nations, throughout history. Each generation takes the place of the previous one, and then in turn has its place taken by the next. Joyce symbolizes this by beginning the book with the end of a sentence that begins on the last page, making the whole book a circle with no real beginning or end.

In order that the book can exist on so many levels at once, Joyce uses the peculiar Finnegans Wake language. The words of this language are each able to mean two or more things at once. So any given sentence or section will mean one thing on the level of the story of HCE and his family, but will mean all kinds of different things on all the different levels that Finnegans Wake exists on.

Looking at just the first sentence:

"riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

So he is saying that he is now circling back from the end of the book back to the beginning.

On one level, he is talking about the river Liffey, a river in Dublin which does almost go in a circle, but starts near Howth Castle and runs past a church called Adam and Eve's.

He is also talking about the historical theories of Giambattista Vico (hence the word "vicus") who saw history as going in circular patterns that constantly recurred.

And Joyce realizes we could call this a "vicious circle".

When he says "Howth Castle and Environs" he incorporates the initials of his protagonist HCE, which is where he is going to start. (note that Joyce capitalizes the H, C, and E.)

He has also cicled back to the beginning of humanity, with Adam and Eve. (On a certain level, HCE and ALP stand for Adam and Eve. Think of how Adam was thrown out of a garden for committing a sin)

And the one sentence, or selected words from the sentence, can mean even more different things. The opening word sounds like the french for "Let us dream", and Joyce described all of Finnegans Wake as a dream.

The point is that this one sentence means all these things, and more, all at the same time. And these are the kind of word-games that Joyce plays with us for 628 pages. It doesn't get any easier, it stays like this for the whole book. To play the game well, you need to try to think the way Joyce did. It often helps to read the words out loud, with an Irish accent (like Joyce had). (Parenthetically, when I personally read a book, or anything else, I can "hear" the words in my mind. My understanding is that there are at least some people who when they read do not "hear" the words they are seeing. Finnegans Wake really requires the reader to "hear" the words, so if you have trouble with this try reading the book out loud.)

I guess the problem is that many people find these sorts of word games very difficult. Also, Joyce doesn't tell us the rules of the game. (There is one chapter where it looks like Joyce is about to tell us the rules, but then he doesn't) Many scholars have written excellent books about Finnegans Wake and their personal understanding of the rules of Joyce's game, and also the parts they believe they have "solved". But with Finnegans Wake, there always seem to be more levels of meaning that can be explored.

So if you enjoy these sorts of word games, you will enjoy Finnegans Wake. If you don't, then you won't. And you may not be able to tell the difference between Finnegans Wake and random gibberish, such as a computer generates. But this is not random gibberish, Joyce is really telling the story of humanity through this one Dublin family. If you know how to play the game, you will be able to find the characters and themes. I would recommend that someone coming to the book for the first time should get a hold of one of the books that gives some idea of how to "play the game".

There are a lot of people all over the world who enjoy playing the Finnegans Wake game. But if this is not your thing, that's okay.
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91 of 108 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
As one of the reviewers noted in his review, I too have given many postive marks to those who have given five-star reviews for this novel; because some reviewers have made very good arguments in defense of this novel. [I never give negative marks on anything, even if I don't like a review, but I do give plenty of positives] Therefore, before you begin to throw the bricks and sling your arrows at me, please let me try and explain why I gave this book such low marks. First of all, I have tried to read--or at least decipher "Finnegans Wake" on four different occasions. I see from some of the reviews that anyone who attempts to disagree with this novels merits gets pelted with negative marks. For those of you who enjoy this novel, good for you! I do not profess to be as knowledgeable as some of you may be on this books merits. But I DO KNOW WHAT I LIKE! And I did not like this novel.

I first tried reading "Finnegans Wake" when I was in High School [it was not required reading] because I heard so much about it that I wanted to read something challenging. And challenging was an understatement. Realizing I was young, I attempted it much later while in the military. As if military life were not frustrating enough. It was not until I entered college, where I was reguired to read the novel, that I did so with true earnest: Due to the fact that I had to write an essay on the novel. I did receive an A minus on the paper. However, to be honest, this was after profusely littering the paper with as much b***s***, that to me Joyce littered his novel with. My professor must have seen some great merit in this essay---at least I felt so at the time.

However, wanting to truly understand the novel, I decided to REALLY try and capture what Joyce was trying to write. This too led to my dislike of the novel. Not so much with the books difficulty [although that was a problem], but with the simple question: Is it really worth reading? My answer? No! For me a novel has to give me that quality of enjoyment that makes the journey a delightful one. It has to capture my soul! This novel never did capture my soul. Give me unabridged editions [the only ones I read] of "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Dumas, "Les Miserables" by Hugo, "War and Peace" by Tolstoy [once is enough please] and more importantly, my favorite author, Dostoevsky, "Notes From the Underground," "Crime and Punishment," and "The Brothers Karamazov." These novels have given me something back in my life for the efforts that I put into reading them. They were profound and affected me deeply. They ALL gave me something in my life.

In conclusion, to those who find this novel worth the high praise it has garnered, I respectfully disagree. There are many great novels from which to choose to spend and evening, afternoon, or morning perusing. And while I do not look negatively on your opinions; if this book gives you enjoyment, then great for you. For me, however, the book gave me nothing. Nor do I wish to spend what little time we are alloted in our short life to spend it on this type of reading. That is my honest opinion. I am sure a 5 star review will give me many positive marks, but that is not why this review exists, or what I am about. This is just my honest opinion.

Today I am going to start reading two novels that I have been wanting to read for some time, but have put off until recently. "Growth of the Soil", by Knut Hamsun, and "The Master and Margarita," by Mikhail Bulgakov. I hear they are good novels; and after laboring over "Finnegans Wake" for too many hours in my life, I will begin to start on that reading list of mine. I'll let you know how these two novels work out. One thing I am pretty sure of, however, is that they will probably not frustrate me as much as "Finnegans Wake" did; and in fact, no other novel has been more of a disappointment to me than Joyce's so-called masterpiece.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
James Joyce's last novel, and incidentally the one his wife considered his best, is, as they say, unreadable, in that if you sit down and go through the book from cover to cover (as I have done) you'll only get the vaguest idea of what was going on. So if that's your idea of the all-time downer reading experience then spend your money on something else, because this is one of those books that is liable not only to change the way you look at life, but the way you read and think. Joyce called it a night book - the "action", such as there is any (and the action comprises pretty much all of human history and civilisation) takes place while the characters (a Dublin pub owner, his wife and family and sundry other unsavoury types) are asleep. But you'd never know that if I hadn't told you, because the language is a punster's dream (literally), a braided and twisted weave of most of the various tongues in the world, based on an idea by the English language, all to be spoken with a fairly strong Irish accent. (Non-Irish people often don't notice this, but the rest of us can hear it.) It's not a book to while away a plane trip. It's a book to spend a few dollars on and then spend the rest of your life dipping in and out of it for profit and pleasure. Some of it is pretty straightforward, such as the visit to the Willingdone museyroom or the episode about the chicken scratching around in the rubbish heap (a lot more gripping than it sounds), while other bits are maddeningly opaque. But if they read novels in heaven they probably read this one. The best way to get the most out of it is to have read every book ever written, but failing that, an open mind, an active imagination, and a sensitivity to the buried layers of meaning in words will get you through. Frank Zappa fans ought to love it; this is conceptual continuity with a vengeance. (Wow. I never thought the day would come when I'd get to review a novel by James Joyce.)
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85 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
I am convinced that people do not read Finnegans Wake, or at least not in the same sense that we ever normally use the word "read." FW is 600+ pages long and I've yet to find more than a handful of standard English sentences among them. In 1999 (this is 2005) I started to read the Wake, with the best of intentions, but I soon noticed a problem. A few paragraphs in, my mind would start to wander, for there was nothing solid that my mind could hang on to. I encountered no setting, no characters, no plot, no narration, nothing concrete nor conceptual. The best that I could say was that every once in a while, some group of words would be evocative of an image or memory, but even when this would happen I could not say for certain whether it was intentional on the part of the author or accident. Eventually, I started reading it aloud in order to keep myself "in" the book but, no help. Today, I am 100 pages in; I can't really bear to read more than a page at a time, and even this is an effort. I get as close to 'zero' from reading it as I can imagine.

Now, please understand that I am not a stupid man, nor unaccustomed to difficult literature. I've a college degree and, in fact, currently teach 10th grade English. I've read (and understood), among other things, Shakespeare, The Bible, War and Peace, and also Ulysses. It is sometimes said that this book was written "for the intelligensia"... well... I consider myself part of the intelligensia and this book was not written for me. I am not here trying to argue that the book was written as a joke, or has no actual meaning (though I think those arguments have some merit, when one considers the work) but that a person who picks this up and starts running their eyes over any given page will not be engaging in the same activity as they would when reading a book. The Wake might be closer to some sort of giant puzzle, though I doubt this as well, but a prospective reader should ask himself whether he wants to engage in a 600 page rebus. Further, I doubt that the Wake could have been "written" in the same sense that other books are. Am I to imagine that Joyce had a firm intention in mind that guided his decisions in writing this book? That he, say, edited it? Rearranged sentences for impact? Checked for consistency? Is this book translated into other languages? How could it be? And wouldn't that assume that it had been written in some language to begin with. And, finally, if it's not written in English (and it's not), or in any other intelligble language (and it's not), then in what sense do we have a book?

Is everything printed on paper literature?

I think not. I do not believe that the Wake was written as a book, and I do not think it possible to read it as one, and I submit the book itself as my evidence. It has occured to me that it would be fun, someday, to take some group of people who've given the Wake 5-star reviews, and then test them. Perhaps we could give them a group of five selections, with one of them a faux-passage and four of them authentic FW-Joyce, and see if they could determine the fake? Or, we could provide them with a passage and then ask for an explanation, and them compare their explanations with one another to see if there's any validity. In fact, FW could make for a great party game along the lines of Balderdash.

Yes, FW is perhaps (doubtful, though) a rebus and it could, with some imagination, provide a party game of sorts (largely revolving around mockery), but it is not a book to be read. Don't feel bad--it wasn't intended to be read. Through it all, the most interesting thing and the greatest value of the book is to watch the actions of the book's defenders. They haven't read it either, in any meaningful sense, and yet like the people in the fable they claim to see the clothing. After all, people of the highest virtue are able to see the Emperor's New Clothes, you see. And who wouldn't want to be a part of that group?
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66 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
Which should be the only reason one would have this book in a collection.

Daferring on red hair moots the ramdelgerag! Cays hast ner eyed the entire lash from the libre, does get sidlelassinlunahack? And for ery' scholar of jits and wallyfins, dare may cieved a consciousable readament of peering quenth Labrynth. Hark! Vain! Rack! Finnegans Wake dost injoyafun for the kathweolasopkookoo. One glance may planner read and ner open this Rhodical magnumus.

If you understood what I just wrote then you may just enjoy this book.
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