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Ulysses Paperback – December 7, 2013
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Ulysses has been labeled dirty, blasphemous, and unreadable. In a famous 1933 court decision, Judge John M. Woolsey declared it an emetic book--although he found it sufficiently unobscene to allow its importation into the United States--and Virginia Woolf was moved to decry James Joyce's "cloacal obsession." None of these adjectives, however, do the slightest justice to the novel. To this day it remains the modernist masterpiece, in which the author takes both Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes. It is funny, sorrowful, and even (in a close-focus sort of way) suspenseful. And despite the exegetical industry that has sprung up in the last 75 years, Ulysses is also a compulsively readable book. Even the verbal vaudeville of the final chapters can be navigated with relative ease, as long as you're willing to be buffeted, tickled, challenged, and (occasionally) vexed by Joyce's sheer command of the English language.
Among other things, a novel is simply a long story, and the first question about any story is: What happens?. In the case of Ulysses, the answer might be Everything. William Blake, one of literature's sublime myopics, saw the universe in a grain of sand. Joyce saw it in Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904, a day distinguished by its utter normality. Two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, go about their separate business, crossing paths with a gallery of indelible Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and (in Bloom's case) masturbate. And thanks to the book's stream-of-consciousness technique--which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river--we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordian folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism.
Both characters add their glorious intonations to the music of Joyce's prose. Dedalus's accent--that of a freelance aesthetician, who dabbles here and there in what we might call Early Yeats Lite--will be familiar to readers of Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man. But Bloom's wistful sensualism (and naive curiosity) is something else entirely. Seen through his eyes, a rundown corner of a Dublin graveyard is a figure for hope and hopelessness, mortality and dogged survival: "Mr Bloom walked unheeded along his grove by saddened angels, crosses, broken pillars, family vaults, stone hopes praying with upcast eyes, old Ireland's hearts and hands. More sensible to spend the money on some charity for the living. Pray for the repose of the soul of. Does anybody really?" --James Marcus --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
'His standing is second to none among writers of our own century. He was witty, difficult, subtle and perhaps the greatest genius among the many who have come from Ireland to bewilder the world with the magic of art.' Irish Independent --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
My first attempt ended 43 years ago on page 38 (the bookmark was still there.) But the book can’t be ignored it is on nearly every ‘100 greatest books’ ever written list: there are many 'bests' lists and “Ulysses” is usually in the leadoff, or #2 spot - that doesn’t happen by ‘chance’!
The difficulty with this read is that the reader is often simply ‘listening’ to the protagonists thoughts presented in stream-of-consciousness style, while Joyce is constantly ‘playing’ with the language; English, French, Latin even Italian, and he plays with the characters and other authors, even his own prior work, and philosophies are explored, and all-the-while the story is an allegory of Homer’s (the Greek, not Simpson) “Odyssey”. And yet, still… in the back of the mind, you just can’t help but wonder if the myopic little Jimmy J. was just having it on with all of us. In fact, he said himself... "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality." (Joyce's reply for a request for a plan of Ulysses, as quoted in James Joyce (1959) by Richard Ellmann.)
Apropos the game of baseball, for which it has been said, “There’s a whole lot of stuff going on out there” (…which the uninitiated is unable to see). I didn't ‘see’ all that Joyce had to say (I am…uninitiated!) but I saw enough to recognize the enormous importance of this book. If I may modify the definition of 4-stars from “I Like it” to “I Admire it”, then I can make the rating system work for this read. If you are a reader, you will want to read this book someday - but wait until you are ready to concentrate on it: Joyce does not throw slow-pitch, its all curves, sliders and cutters and nasty sinkers! If you strike out, its your own fault, not his.
The story line is a walk through Dublin on the day of June 16th 1904 where we follow the separate strolls of Stephen Dedalus, a budding poet and Leopold Bloom, an advertisement salesman, till they meet in the evening, go on a drunk together then separate onto their own paths again. Simple story? Sure, but you’d better pay attention because, “there’s a whole lot of stuff going on out there!”
So, my 4 stars is a compromise between the content (five stars) and the Kindle version (3 stars).
I couldn't have got through this "mind expander" without a lot of help from my intrepid reading buddies on the Book Forum Refugees, the challenging Brain Pain and the Ulysses threads on the Western Canon group. Thank you one and all because I've wanted to read this for a long time.
This is a dense read and whilst I don't pretend to have picked up all of the complex nuances of this mammoth read I did manage (with a little help from my friends) to get the gist of what Joyce was saying. I found this novel humorous, challenging, frustrating, joyful, going through all the "mental gymnastics" that this novel puts a reader through.
I'm in awe of the language, skill, fearlessness, sheer verve and audacity that Joyce displays.
I would read this again, it's a novel that I know would give "more" with each reading but I wouldn't use this particular edition. There were a mere handful of photos supplied that were small and you need a magnifying glass to get any benefit from.
Favourite character .......Leopold Bloom, I liked his inherent kindness to animals and his fellow man.
Most recent customer reviews
I can read the book on my Tablet, iPhone, computer or Mac, the Kindle application is available for many platforms.
And that's important, since I told my students (rightly, I think) that the purpose of reading, and writing, literature was "pleasure.Read more