Right, time for this 1p Book Review series to get ambitious. It was Gaw’s recent post on Cockney Cuisine – “lugubrious spoonfuls of silvery eel and golden jelly” and “suck[ing] on the odd piece of protuberant cartilage” that put me in mind of Ulysses, and particularly of our introduction to Leopold Bloom and his love of the, ah, tangy meats…
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
Many people believe that Ulysses is a difficult book. It’s a long book certainly, but so was the last Harry Potter. And ‘difficulty’ is very much a matter of context: Ulysses is difficult compared to, say, Roald Dahl’s The BFG, granted; but next to The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, to take one example, it really is a cinch. To illustrate, here is a random quote from Kant:
If we thereupon proceed to hypostatise this idea of the sum of all reality, that is because we substitute dialectically for the distributive unity of the empirical employment of the understanding, the collective unity of experience as a whole; and then thinking this whole of appearance as one single thing that contains all empirical reality in itself; and then again, in turn, by means of the above-mentioned transcendental subreption, substituting for it the concept of a thing which stands at the source of the possibility of all things, and supplies the real conditions for their complete determination.
There are 668 more pages like that. Now, here’s a random quote from Ulysses:
In his broad bed nuncle Richie, pillowed and blanketed, extends over the hillock of his knees a sturdy forearm. Cleanchested.
The thing about Joyce is that you can choose a sentence at random from any of his books (except, of course, Finnegans Wake – which really is a difficult book) and know that it will be devoid of cliché but generally no more impenetrable than Shakespeare. Funny too; here’s another random sentence (surely a positive influence on our very own Frank Key?):
The figure seated on a large boulder at the foot of a round tower was that of a broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freely freckled shaggybearded widemouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hariylegged ruddyfaced, sinewyarmed hero.
Anyway, rather than attempt to actually ‘review’ Ulysses (may as well try to dance about architecture, as Elvis Costello put it, referring to the futility of writing about music), I will instead offer my Top 5 Tips on how to successfully read Ulysses by James Joyce which, if followed carefully, will allow you to say, in company, that you have read Ulysses by James Joyce without technically lying:
1) Don’t bother trying to decipher every blasted line. Chances are there’ll be another line along any second that you’ll probably understand perfectly.
2) Don’t get bogged down in all the allegories, the wretched parallel with the Odyssey and the academic layers. You’ll soon be exhausted and miserable. Just read it through for entertainment, then go back if you want to know about all the puzzles etc. The Oxford World Classics 1922 edition has lots of excellent notes.
3) First time round, skip Chapter 3 (Proteus), and Chapter 14 (Oxen of the Sun). These are absolute gits, especially the latter. Better to go back to them at the end, when you’re more in the swing of things, than to let their obscurity frustrate you into giving up.
4) Be slightly drunk when reading.
5) Better yet, be slightly drunk on Guinness, in Dublin, when reading. And do it in an Irish accent. Enjoy!