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James Joyce

average rating is 2 out of 5


R. Alex Jenkins

The hardest book I have ever read without a doubt. The Bible is the most excruciating, but I haven't completed that.

Time ticks away at the same pace for all of us, with perception of wastefulness a subjective opinion. Productive at work, making love, eating a nice meal, reading a great book... it's in the mind as to personal worth over time, today, this week or during a lifespan.

After reading Ulysses once, time often felt stolen - in other words, I didn't really enjoy it - but its positive qualities can justify some of that loss in retrospect: to have finished one of the most disputed classics of all time and finally got the monkey off my back, including memories and discussion points to fill in the blanks of ignorance and bare-faced WTFism, as well as the determination and perseverance to get through a monstrous challenge, while coveting an inner achievement for no-one other than myself.

Although bored and bewildered much of the time, there are several moments of brilliance and humour within. The milkmaid making her rounds - not her milk, old paps - titillating laugh-out-loud moments; sections listing convoluted and exaggerated names of foreign delegates, surreal baby talk and babbling coos, rambunctious kids, kickable balls, naughty flirting, smut, swearing, gobbledigook, taking it from behind, inadvertently enjoying how much Joyce takes the mick while also illiciting intelligible fluency when he chooses.

The changes in dialect and writing styles - yeurgh! Reading shouldn't be a battle that you desperately want to end. I was thoroughly annoyed after 55% when dialogue and prose changed to incomprehensibility, understanding nothing, wanting to give up but being too committed to do so!

Funnily enough, the more you delve into the mindset of Joyce and the characters he portrays, the more your expectations are offset by the madness, by trying to understand less, to go with the flow and branch out into new directions. It's pointless trying to work out what's going on or why; instead, accept being back at the pub/classroom/courtroom, chatting with colleagues/accusers/madmen, after weird and occasionally enjoyable rambles into the shadow realm of the human mind. If you acknowledge that two thirds of psilocybin experiences could be unpleasant trips, you can better enjoy Ulysses.

You have to read it twice or thrice to grasp what's going on, but never is too soon enough when considering how much other material is out there vs our short lifespans and the sanity trade off/sacrifice. I might try it again one day.... as I liked it in parts, hated it in others, but received plenty of insight, gained weathered reading lines of experience, some scant reward and cackling laughs in places and, most of all, have now read and digested Ulysses as my private weapon of literary superiority over anyone else who hasn't: who can't, won't or downright refuse to read it, like a whale sifting through enough plankton to get a satisfactory meal in the end.

It's done. It's dead. Long live Ulysses.

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