Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Ulysses by James Joyce

Backlog review. Originally read/reviewed August 2011.

Title: Ulysses
Author: James Joyce
Published: October 1997 (Everyman's Library) (Originally published 1922)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Summary:  The most famous day in literature is June 16, 1904, when a certain Mr. Leopold Bloom of Dublin eats a kidney for breakfast, attends a funeral, admires a girl on the beach, contemplates his wife’s imminent adultery, and, late at night, befriends a drunken young poet in the city’s red-light district.

An earthy story, a virtuoso technical display, and a literary revolution all rolled into one, James Joyce’s Ulysses is a touchstone of our modernity and one of the towering achievements of the human mind.

My Review: (Yes, I am reviewing one of the "Greatest Novels of All Time" while watching the Lizzie McGuire movie. I am that awesome.)

I have rarely had such a difficult time rating a book as I did with this one. I was conflicted, to say the least.

I was first introduced to Ulysses in my British Lit class last semester. We studied a 30-ish page segment, and I was intrigued. It was difficult going, although I understood it a lot better than most of my classmates; I enjoyed it a lot. It made me want to read the book, particularly when my professor read the last page or so aloud (despite my obvious wishes that he wouldn't, as I'm a huge spoiler-phobe and had already decided I wanted to read it), and I fell in love.
The whole section is gorgeous, but this is the very end, and the last line is one of my favorite ending lines in all the books I've ever read. (SPOILERS in the following paragraph, obviously)
...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
Now, that said, here are various thoughts I have now that I've read the whole thing.

Negative points:

~ The first and foremost thought is that it was long. I'm usually not dissuaded by that -- Atlas Shrugged is one of my favorites, and the only thing I complain about, length-wise, with it, is the 70+ page monologue. But this book gave a new meaning to the word. The problem with it is that it is unnecessarily long. My version was just under 1100 pages, and I think it needed to be long, but not that long. Virginia Woolf criticized its length, as well, saying it should be cut down to 300 pages. I disagree, but a nice 7 or 800 would have done the trick.

~ Parts of it were just weird. There's no other way to say it. Particularly the segment written in script format. That's the part that lost me; I took a break for a couple weeks before forcing myself to pick it back up again.

~ The changes in narrative style drove me crazy, even though I know they were intentional. Some of them served an obvious purpose, while others did not.

However. (And this is a big "however," thus the italics.)

Positive points:

~ This work? Truly is genius. I am astounded that a person could actually write this. For one, it is insanely complex and intelligent. The ability to actually write something of this magnitude about the subject matter really does blow me away. The references, from the obvious to the obscure to the so-obscure-no-one-on-earth-will-ever-get-this-without-help, which one needs a code to crack (Literally. Many books have been written in just that vein), are impressively and maddeningly numerous.

~ My personal favorite aspect of the book is, hands down, Joyce's writing style. It is stunningly gorgeous and smart and flowing and utterly amazing. I cannot say enough about it. In just the language, he can evoke the most powerful reality behind the imagery that he paints with the exact same words, whether the subject be appealing or disgusting. It is impossible to describe how fantastic it is.

~ Molly's 72 pages at the end. Love love love. My English professor said Molly Bloom was pretty much his favorite fictional character of all time. While I do not agree, I did find this segment compelling. It was my favorite part of the book, which is saying something, as there was not a single occurrence of punctuation in the entire 72 pages until the period at the very end.

Overall, parts of this book were awesome, parts were weird and/or boring, and still more parts were right in the middle.

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Psst! I now reside over at The Book Barbies. I'd still love to hear your thoughts, though!