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Before attempting to read this book, you should be aware that, while it is considered by many to be the greatest work of English literature of the 20th century, it is quite unlike almost any other novel. It certainly doesn’t have the usual character and plot development. While it does to some extent loosely follow an individual, Leopold Bloom (the Ulysses character) as he spends a single day (16 June 1904) in Dublin, the real character seems to be city of Dublin itself, with innumerable secondary characters going about their business (and pleasures) in that distinctive city, at that time, with their collective history and culture on full display, as well as their most intimate thoughts and passions. Much of the story is conveyed in a “stream of consciousness” style, which means that you are reading the unspoken (as well as spoken) thoughts of the characters (including many random associations and distractions, smells, memories, imaginings and intimate pleasures). At some points this becomes exceedingly dense and challenging. Having said that, if you approach it with an open mind, you don’t have to be an English Literature major to appreciate this book (I am definitely not one, but I did enjoy it). In fact I tried to read it as a prelude to visiting Dublin, but wasn’t able to finish it until after my return, which worked out just as well. I would highly recommend the experience of trying to read this book, even if you don’t finish it, so long as you start with an open mind.
Suggestion: If you’ve been to Dublin, you might enjoy following Bloom (on Google maps for example) as he moves around the city.
The first three chapters of Ulysses (Telemachus, Nestor, and Proteus) are Joyce's farewell to his literary stand-in Stephen Dedalus, of which Joyce's previous novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is the subject. Part I of Ulysses is exclusively told from Stephen's, and thus Joyce's perspective, just as Portrait was. In Calypso (the fourth episode), the reader encounters a new narrator in the form of Leopold Bloom. Bloom is everything Stephen (and thus Joyce) is not; while Stephen is pretentious and snobbish, Bloom is anything but. Joyce created Bloom as an Everyman to better represent the traveling of all of Dublin in the span of one day; by having a narrator with more interest in the macrocosm rather than the complicated and dark microcosm that is Stephen's mind, the reader is able to explore Dublin with fresh eyes and appreciate all of the landmarks Joyce mentions (Joyce once said that anyone could pick up the novel and use it as a map of Dublin; hence, the celebration of Bloomsday each year in Dublin on June 16th--the day on which the novel takes place--by touring Dublin following Bloom's footsteps).
Ulysses is a cornucopia of creativity and writing styles, with each of the eighteen episodes taking a radically different form than the one before it: Circe is a play; Ithaca is a catechism; Sirens is comprised of mostly musical rhythms, metaphors, and tones; Aeolus is long-winded; Proteus is completely stream-of-consciousness; Penelope has no punctuation; Oxen in the Sun moves through the development of English language.
There are certainly many themes in Ulysses, but the base theme is life and death: Stephen feels haunted by his mother's ghost, Bloom hallucinates seeing the apparition of his dead son Rudy several times, in one of the dream sequences of Circe when Bloom transforms into a woman he reveals his longing to be a mother and gives birth, and Stephen focuses on bringing his creativity and agency 'to life' via his convoluted algebraic Shakespeare theory in which he attempts to prove Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather.
Ulysses explores the human condition: nothing more and nothing less. Joyce, being the brilliant writer he was, took up the burden and created this masterpiece which is arguably the best written work in the English language.
"Burned in the U.S. (1918), Ireland (1922), Canada (1922), England (1923) and banned in England (1929)." from www.ala.org American Library Association
I've yet read Odyssey, neither do I know the story. I've yet been to Dubin, only travelled quite a bit in and around Clare County plus mind journey to Ireland's past. My knowledge of history, literature, philosophy are limited, though I'm catching up...
However, my first read of this VOLUME is (to my suprise) rewarding. Immersed in Joyce' Joy, I didn't work hard digging out the obscure treasure and relic to inspect the details carved or eroded, mostly I swam with the flow, reading more larger sections in one sitting, without intermittent referencing that can interrupt my stream of conciousness. One cannot read if try to understand every single detail, one cannot hear if dwell on a sound harmony of one transient.
My take at current stage is limited to what I heard from my vocal interpretation, besides allegory (I must have missed much), humor (pun, rhyme, riddle) and guilty pleasure, esp. empathy felt with Bloom (his brilliance of imagination and dreamscape; his ordinary being of else...any one can relate to). I tried to like Stephen for his talent and some intangible attractivness, but too far-fetched for me to even level myself first (I'll ruminate more when read again).
Molly (as well as a lesser female character Gerty) gave me an added bonus not to question author's arrogance and showing off.
There are many other characters who confused me at the time and some still do, though they seemed to serve certain interests or purposes, I put them off as the background hum or salad base.
The book must have inspired many progenitors in the realm of high art, commercial art, even multi-media today (Bloom is an Ad guy!).
Each chapter varies in style and form, and may be preferred by different reader. To me (pertinent to science-trained or not), a special mention is "Ithaca", not due to its being easier or more difficult to chew, it was my reading experience transformed my attitude towards it from curious, slightly annoyed, addictively detested, to absolutely captivated.
This is a book laden with heavy allegory, a myriad of complex references, dense poetry, eccentric structure, and that is all it is. This book feels like one man writing everything he’s ever wanted to write in one book, and that makes it unequivocally unique and fascinating; however, just because there is nothing like this, doesn’t mean this book isn’t just mental masturbation for pseudo-intellectuals. There is a beauty in the stream-of-consciousness writing present throughout the book, and there really is nothing like it, but as a whole, it just isn’t readable for anyone who isn’t a masochist, or heavily invested in literature. - @FalcoLombardi of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library
On my third try to read Ulysses, I attempted to just open my mind to the "stream of consciousness" writing, but after trying this for a couple of hundred pages, I gave up again.
Quite difficult, not worth the time to read it because it's so boring. One star is generous.
This novel is #12 on my researched Top Classic Novels. I won't attempt to add to the excellent summaries already provided. This complex, difficult novel was written in 1922 between two other Top 100 novels, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and Finnegans Wake". See my GerryD Lists for more great novels.
Can't honestly give this book a rating as I had to throw in the towel after 20 pages...I really gave it a good try but found it unreadable.
Joyce's "stream of consciousness" style makes for an confusing, jolting, unenjoyable experience. It seems you have to know your latin and turn-of-the-century Irish jargon to have any chance to know what's going on.
It's not the time period that makes this book exclusive - Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby" is written was written within the same decade and is infinitely more accessable...and enjoyable!
Easily one of the most influential and challenging novels of the 20th Century. It really helps to have a guide to understand what's going on, and to provide access points (for instance, the amount of music theory in this book is enough for a symphony, and look for the repeated mention of various organs of the body). I've heard mixed reviews of audio versions of (parts of) this novel, but listening might help the reader approach it from another angle: as music, and as poetry. Reading Ulysses is a challenge, but it should be remembered that it is supposed to be a fun challenge, and a real adventure for the characters and the reader.
One of the greatest works of English Literature as well as one of its most difficult. Joyce's experimentation with the novel, with the written word, with language, and with the human mind was monumental and defined the Modernist movement and all that has followed.
If you give the time that this lengthy and complex book asks of you it will likely reward you with one of the greatest experiences in reading you have ever had or, possibly, one of the worst. Take the chance.
For a good introduction to Joyce read "James Joyce" by Richard Ellmann. If you liked Ulysses, try Finnegans Wake. If you didn't, try Dubliners.