Tag Archives: Literary Fiction

Review: Ulysses


By James Joyce
Published 2013 by Vintage (first published February 2nd 1922), 816pp

The Short of It:

A fantastical romp of failures and missed opportunities but a real treat for the imagination.

The Rest of It:

Oh! How people dread this one! Long ago I tried to read it but never got past the beginning. Mostly it was a timing issue. I made a mental note to come back to it and so I did, with a few others who joined me for a read-along.

Let me tell you, the first half vexed me. It was gibberish. No matter how many times I read a sentence, it made no sense! I even resorted to reading it out loud. My dog thought I was yelling at her though so I had to stop. But somewhere in the second half, Joyce’s writing became understandable and from there, there was no turning back.

The story takes place on June 16. A day so celebrated by fans that it’s called Bloomsday. Leopold Bloom’s day is spent having lunch, spending time with friends, visiting brothels and bailing his friends out of trouble. The chapters (episodes) vary in format and the narration shifts back and forth between characters.

Much of it makes no sense. You just have to know that going in. There are plenty of reading guides available but most of them just tell you to read it for yourself. It’s a book that begs you to hate it but if you appreciate a good imagination and don’t mind dealing with hallucinations and fantastical elements, then perhaps you’ll love it.

Do I love it? Maybe. It’s been a few days since I finished it and my thoughts are still percolating. I can see myself re-reading it at some point.

Did I mention that it was banned for pornographic content? The ban was lifted in 1934 when it was noted as an emetic, but certainly not an aphrodisiac. Can you believe that? An emetic?? I will admit, it’s a bit smutty. If you are sensitive to lascivious talk then this probably isn’t a book for you.

Did you know that Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, and the novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel? (Wikipedia) I went into this book not knowing this piece of information but somewhere in the beginning I figured this out.

Did you know that it was originally published as a serial publication in the magazine The Little Review? My copy of the book did not include the episode titles so every time I saw a particular episode mentioned somewhere, I had a really hard time finding it in my copy. I was aware of the serial publication but I wish I had purchased a book that contained those titles. My copy only separated Parts I, II and III. There were no breaks between episodes so I could not tell when a new one had started.

Even with all the obstacles noted, this is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time. While reading it at work I was surprised at how many people showed an interest in it. My copy has already been loaned out to a colleague. I can’t wait to hear her thoughts.

Here are the read-along breakdowns in case you’re interested:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

This article from The Economist is rather interesting and might encourage you to give it a go.

What other BEAST might I want to tackle? Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Turner House

The Turner House

The Turner House
By Angela Flournoy
Houghton Mifflin, Hardcover, 9780544303164, April 2015, 352pp.

The Short of It:

What makes a house a home?

The Rest of It:

The house on Yarrow Street, once a thriving hub for thirteen children in the middle of Detroit’s crumbling East Side, has seen its members come and go for over fifty years. Now, falling apart and worth much less than what they paid for it, the family is forced to sell it back to the bank.

I really enjoyed this flawed family. Granted, there are a lot of characters in this story to keep track of and I’m not sure that all of their stories were as interesting as some, but the gambling addiction of the youngest sibling was particularly interesting to me as was the “haint” or ghostly apparition that the oldest sibling grew up with.

When you’ve lived in a house for as long as the Turners have, it’s impossible to not have feelings about it even when the neighborhood around it has gone to hell. And how many times have we been willing to let something go only to change our minds once the sale sign is up? It just seems so final, right?

That is the case here but this isn’t a sad, sappy story about losing a home. It’s much more subtle in the telling. Flournoy focuses on the flaws of each family member, allowing the reader to get to know them a little, see the home from their eyes, walk in their shoes, etc.

For me, it took me a little while to get into the story but once I did, I found that I really enjoyed it. It was a National Book Award finalist and extremely well-received when it debuted. Have you read it?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.