Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ulysses by James Joyce

Author: James Joyce
Originally Published: 1922
Length: 933 pages
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Challenge: Group read hosted by Jill at Fizzy Thoughts

Personal PERPLEXITY Factor: 5/5

What advantages attended shaving by night?
A softer beard:  a softer brush if intentionally allowed to remain from shave to shave in its agglutinated lather: a softer skin if unexpectedly encountering female acquaintances in remote places at incustomary hours: quiet reflections on the course of the day:  a cleaner sensation when waking after fresher sleep since matutinal noises, premonitions and perturbations, a clattered milk-can, a postman's double knock, a paper read, reread while lathering, relathering the same spot, a shock, a shoot, with thought of aught he sought though frought with nought might cause a faster rate of shaving and a nick on which incision plaster with precision cut and humected and applied adhered which was to be done. (787)

Happy Bloomsday!  (And happy shaving, if you're doing it at night.)

A long time ago, in a land far, far way . . . I read Ulysses.  Luckily, there's such a thing as post-traumatic stress disorder in reading, so some of my feelings remain etched in my mind even thought it's been a few months.

During my first year or two of blogging, I would occasionally do four-word or seven-word reviews.  For Ulysses, I actually had a few three-letter reviews pop into my head as I was reading:


How's that for brevity?  If only Joyce had been so succinct.  He had me in the beginning, he really did, as I mentioned in my second post of the readalong.  And then:

Clapcop.  Clipclap.  Clappyclap.
Goodgod henev erheard inall.
Deaf bald Pat brought pad knife took up.
A moonlight nightcall: far: far.
I feel so sad.  P.S.  So lonely blooming.
Listen! (329)

And so forth.  I will say it was a very interesting "exercise" to read so many words strung together in many different forms throughout the book that I didn't understand at all.  It forced me to pay more attention to other things like alliteration and  rhythm.  It was more like listening to a song without words, or really more of an album, because each chapter is unique, though tied together by Bloom's day.  

I was constantly questioning as I read whether I was spending my time wisely in reading what my mind was registering as gibberish.  I felt like a second-grader reading Shakespeare.  Twenty-percent comprehension maybe?  A few things helped me along though:
  • Some sentences are in a foreign language (I mean other than Joycean English).  These excited me because I felt like I was allowed to skip them.  What a buzz!
  • I'm pretty sure that Joyce makes up about 2,000 new words.  I had fun making up my own definitions for words like zrad, plopslop, twikindled, upupa, plappering.  When one of my kids spills something sticky on the floor--"Plopslop!"
  • I liked pretending I was picking up on the allusions--Molly was reading something that I've read, only now I can't remember what it was.  Shakespeare?  Yeah, I've heard of him.
Overall, I honestly appreciated and was impressed by the innovation/experimentation of the text.  It was just too much.  Too long.  Too incomprehensible.  If each chapter had been a third of its length, I would have willingly dug deeper and tried harder.  But I just didn't have the mental stamina for over 900 pages.

If I were to read this again, I would set aside a year and a half and focus on one chapter a month.  Will I ever really reread it?  If I do, I may think of myself as Gerty MacDowell thinks of Leopold as he's sitting on the rocks:

*I wanted to put WTH for "What the heck?"  because that's what would really come out of my mouth, but would anyone know what I was talking about?  You'd be like WTF is WTH? 


  1. I LOVE the Personal Perplexity Factor. People say that the comprehension increases the more you read it, but that's never, ever going to happen. Once was more than enough.

  2. Ha ha! Love the cuckoos. :-) I can't wait to read this book, just to see if I go insane. :P

  3. Nice closing thoughts. Love the rating. I'm also a WTH person, but the resulting explanation would be too cumbersome.

    Personally, I land squarely in the No Reread camp...

  4. I too love the cuckoos! Great job on making it through, I'm impressed. Maybe someday I'll give the insanity a try.

  5. I know this is one of the Holy Grails of reading, but most of the time I couldn't even tell which episode of the Odyssey it was supposed to match up with! Color me "HUH?" Not initials, just the word. (Love your micro-reviews!)