I have returned to James Joyce after two years, and discovered talent.
Perhaps I will discover too, some day, that Jhumpa Lahiri is an enjoyable writer, and that fairies really do exist. But, let us leave that safely and realistically for the distant future. For now, James Joyce is quite enough for my fragile constitution.
Tangentially, I also love the word fragile. It starts with a nicely fulsome, furlsome “fra” and then rides up a hard “g” to come gently looping around a lovely lovely lilting “ile”. Fragile. Like a dimpled smile.
But back to James the joyous. Who wasn’t very joyous. At all. In fact I’d even risk confessing that my first impression was that he was a bit of a raging bore. The sort that come thumping dully at your brain at .01 kmph with their battery of tenuous detail and plateauing plots that never conclude. Anything. At least not on the very gross plane that I exist at, intellectually speaking.
But before you march me off to the corner to clutch my ears and contemplate my horrific impertinence, do for a moment consider this: Roddy Doyle, official Darling at Shout, hottest Irishman in the World, sharpest writer in the Galaxy and my focal point of very shameless obsession in the Universe, officially went on record to say this.
My little encounter with Joyce, however, occurred well before I chanced upon this soul-soothing article.
It was my very affected literary aspirations that lead me to Joyce. When you’ve been a student of literature, unread works like Ulysses hang very heavily on your conscience. Especially if many of your much admired writers have at inspired moments of gratitude acknowledged the deep influence of this one big unexplored mine of very pressingly weighty writing that somehow, instead of seeming exciting, bears down upon you like… weighty writing.
It is with this sense of martyr-like duty towards my literary evolution, and the moral incandescence of those who [try to] choose right over wrong I sought James Joyce amidst a gay pile of Agatha Christies, with pursed lips and the determination of a cobra.
“Short stories”, I thought with the smugness of one who has slyly outdone fate, as I held a very blue copy of Dubliners, “how torturous can they be, short [to intensely and meaningfully stress the point] as they are”.
But, my Strength of Character so bright and fierce, paled a few words later. I shoved Dubliners aside very quickly after buying it off a railway station rack as a last minute, inspired remedy for a very boring journey. I decided that I’d rather fall into a gazeless, senseless stupor watching trees go by in an endlessly unchanging landscape than read about the non-lives of an unexpectedly wide range of numbingly insipid characters.
Literary pretensions or not, there are some things I will just not subject myself to. I’d rather accept that I am shallow, uncultured and utterly unliterary.
Two years passed by. In the interim I started blogging and realised a lot about my taste, style and appreciation of the written word. I also became acutely aware of how words can elude you with cruel disdain sometimes and make you beg like a blubbering bitch to be allowed that exact meaning you are trying to convey. However, even as I struggled, each time I came across a blogger with James Joyce on their list of favourites, I turned a complicatedly squirmish-dismissive-sheepish-arrogant blind eye to every J, A, M, E, S, J, O, Y, C and E on the list.
And then, fate struck with a slier backhand.
The one bit of relief I unwittingly grabbed minutes before rushing out of the house, on what has been the most torturous journey of my professional life, turned out to be, several thousand feet above terra firma, strapped in an economy seat, the same blue book. Dubliners.
I read rather carefully this time. Gratefully even, for the distraction.
And it struck me like the thunderous thighs of a rampaging elephant, that had James been a blogger, he’d truly have made me joyous. I’d have pledged my undying allegiance to his daily/ weekly/ monthly outpourings on blog. I’d have pronounced him King of all thinking bloggers in the universe.
And, I’d have begged him to write a book.
He is that subtle and fine. And I must now go and rub my face in poo for being so unjustifiably, unthinkably, enormously, unbelievably, embarrassingly judgemental.
PS: I still haven’t the courage to attempt a reading of Ulysses. Yet.