Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ulysses Review

Book three is DONE!!!!

James Joyce Ulysses is a hard read, but very interesting and engaging. I think I liked it better than Don Quixote because even though it is a struggle to understand at times, I was engaged with the material.

This book is brilliant! Too brilliant for me in fact! I read it with a dictionary next to me and even with that, didn't comprehend everything. The book has several different languages in it, and a lot of Irish colloquialisms that are now out of date. The book is also based on The Odyssey and despite having watched the 90s TV movie with Vanessa Williams I remembered absolutely nothing of the story. I think if I had read it, it would have added to the experience of reading this book.

Ulysses is based on one day, June 16, 1904. Each chapter is an hour in that day. (Huh so I guess this book was the show "24" before it was "24"!!!) That, however is where the similarities end. Unlike "24", which details the crazy antics of one very action packed day, Ulysses sets about chronicaling a completely average day with very little, if anything happening. It focuses on the mundane activites that make up our day, and show how even those things can become an epic. Each chapter also has a different literary style to it. One chapter uses newspaper headlines and journalistic style writing to convey the meaning, another uses scientific questions, and yet another is set out like a musical. Most of the chapters include internal monologue, where a character thinks about things inside of his head. Unlike most novels, these thoughts are not polished and include tangents and free association, which at first is EXTREMELY confusing to follow. Once you realize what is going on (which took me about 20 pages and reading the introduction to the novel to accomplish) it is actually quite cool.

Ulysses focuses on the body in a big way. In the introduction of the version I read, it gives you chart to follow along in the book. Each chapter focuses on a body part. The humorous thing is that this book includes in detail descriptions of a morning bathroom routine, frequent burping, farting and other such normal bodily functions. It also strays into more sexual bodily functions and even includes a scene where the main character masturbates on a beach.

Thanks to the thoughts of the main characters, the book gets quite lewd and is almost pornographic in parts. The last chapter where the wife, Molly goes into detail about all of her affairs is particularly this way. Ulysses was banned in many places including the United States for a period of time and I imagine those parts are why. Would I ban it? No. Despite it really graphic parts the book is briliant. It is a masterpiece of its own kind that changes the way the novel looks at things. Rather than being full of heroic unique deeds it shows that even everyday life can be interesting. It also uses so many different literary methods and unique ways of conveying its message that it is definitely worth a read.

I would say the main theme is about feeling inadequate and looking for a purpose and identity in life. Bloom struggles with fears about his wife, and also struggles to fit in with society as a whole. Stephen, a young poet who later meets Bloom struggles with his identity having little contact with his family. Between the two of them they help each other out. A good quote from the introduction of the book I read is:

"Natural parents should bear in mind that the more supplementaries their children find, at school, or elsewhere, the better they will know that it takes all sorts to make a world."

There are some excellent quotes in this book, which borders on poetry. My all time favorite has to be a new name for God which Ulysses coins.Note that my blog is called magicandmystery for a reason. It is part of my philosophy of God. The world is a magic place. Joyce refers to Jesus as "Heisos Kristos, magician of the beautiful". LOVE IT!!!!

I love this one too!

"Our souls, shame-wounded by our sins, cling to us yet more, women to her lover clinging, the more, the more"

Another one stated by Stephen Dedalus in the novel "Where there is reconcilliation... there must have been first a sundering"

And yet another.

"Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves"

I have found that last quote to be very true. It is often hard to change things that are innately us. Despite alll our efforts we find that we are more often than not the same in the end. Our view of the world is coloured by our internal thoughts and feelings.

Overall, I thought that Ulysses was worthy of a read, despite is pornographic elements. I would just caution readers to be aware that they are there.

I am now on to book 4 In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Should be good!!


Melissa said...

The fact that YOU needed a dictionary scares me away from this book. :) But I'm intrigued by the author playing around with writing styles in each chapter & the fact that it chronicles an ordinary day. I always wonder if other's thoughts are as random & often rude as mine. Yes, I enjoy bathroom humor, but it is not always polite to say so. Too bad this book can't be translated into modern language for me to understand.


Joseph said...

A thorough and thoughtful review. You are much kinder to Mr. Joyce than I.

so I guess this book was the show "24" before it was "24"!!!