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review 2017-01-09 21:36
Books of 1916: Part Three
Light and Darkness - Soseki Natsume
Kusamakura and Kokoro by Soseki NATSUME (Japanese Edition) - kisaragishogo
Grass on the Wayside (Michikusa) - Soseki Natsume,Translated and with an Introduction by Edwin McClellan
The Magic Mountain - Thomas Mann,John E. Woods
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Seamus Deane,James Joyce
Stephen Hero - James Joyce
Ulysses - James Joyce Ulysses - James Joyce
Exiles - James Joyce

Books of 1916: Part Three: Natsume Soseki and James Joyce

 

Light and Darkness by Natsume Soseki

 

This unfinished novel, which was serialized in a newspaper, was Natsume Soseki’s last work, as he died of an ulcer in 1916. As the story begins, the main character Tsuda is going to have an operation on his intestines that sounds incredibly unsound and unclean. Think of the horrible and bizarre medical care we get today and then imagine it 100 times worse! So I was really worried about what was going to happen to Tsuda and felt that he was putting his head in the sand by worrying about his money troubles and his relationship with his wife, etc. But it turned out that the book really was about those things. Tsuda’s illness and operation ended up seeming more metaphorical than an important plot point.

 

I’m sorry to say that I really struggled to get from one end of this book to the other. I adored Natsume Soseki’s other books Kokoro and Grass on the Wayside. They were so lovely and brilliant. But he didn’t get a chance to edit this book and get it into shape, plus it sounds like he was sick and worried the whole time he was writing it. The afterword said that some critics consider this novel a “postmodern masterpiece” precisely because it is unfinished. But it wasn’t the lack of ending that did me in, it was the whole middle of the book, which dragged and was hard for me to focus on. I liked hearing from the point of view of Tsuda’s wife, O-Nobu, except that it went on and on without resolution. I also liked seeing all the period details of Japanese life, especially now that I’ve actually been to Japan.

 

Tsuda was a little bit like the main character in Grass on the Wayside in that he didn’t have very good social skills and tended to say things that made people feel bad without meaning to. The story really picked up at the end, when we finally learn Tsuda’s secret, that he has never gotten over the woman he used to love, and he goes to see her in a sanatorium, sort of like the one in The Magic Mountain except Japanese of course. His pretext is that he’s recovering from the surgery and he wants to take the waters, but naturally I was wondering if his pretext would turn out to be the truth and he would never leave. This was the section that I enjoyed the most but of course it came to an abrupt end.

 

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

 

When I think of James Joyce, I always think of three people in my life who felt very strongly about him. First was my mother, who was a big James Joyce fan and talked to me a lot about him. Second, a boyfriend I had who was also a big Joyce fan, and we used to read bits of Stephen Hero and Ulysses out loud to each other. Third, my wife Aine, who had been forced to read some Joyce in secondary school in County Clare and absolutely hated him, and all other Irish writers she read in school (except Oscar Wilde.) She said they were all pretentious wankers. Early on, I had to work hard to convince her that James Joyce was not a Protestant, as she had lumped him together in her mind with Synge, Yeats, Shaw etc. In fact, just now when I read her this paragraph to see if she endorsed my characterization of her views, I had to persuade her once again that Joyce was not Anglo-Irish.

 

I read Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man in 2002, sure that I was going to love it as much as I loved everything else I’d read by Joyce. And indeed I was hooked by the opening page (“When you wet the bed, first it is warm and then it gets cold.”) I loved reading about the childhood of this sensitive boy Stephen Dedalus, and how his family argued at the dinner table about Parnell, and all about the scary priests who ran everything. But then I got to the part where Stephen starts going to prostitutes at around the age of fifteen, and I was completely bewildered and grossed out. Then he catches religion and becomes devout. Then he starts rabbiting on about art and aestheticism.

 

I had utterly lost sympathy with the protagonist and the author. Not only that, this Stephen Dedalus character began to remind me incredibly strongly of the Joyce-worshipping boyfriend, whom I had just broken up with weeks earlier. They were both totally pretentious and couldn’t keep it in their pants! (This is the same boyfriend who would get me so angry, the one I mentioned earlier in my review of These Twain. He’s certainly getting a harsh edit in these book reviews. Who knew he was so inextricably linked to 1916? He did have many good qualities, which were not at the forefront of my mind when read Portrait of the Artist.)

 

I ended up despising this novel. I bet if I re-read it now having had more life experience, I would have a more gentle and forgiving eye, but I probably never will. (Also, what kind of person likes Stephen Hero but not this one, when Stephen Hero is just an earlier draft of the same book? I think it’s pretty clear that the problem was mainly me, or mainly the ex-boyfriend.) I do get another chance to give James Joyce a fair shake in 1918 with his play Exiles.

 

I inherited my mom’s copy of this novel. It’s all marked up with notes, including D.H. Lawrence’s assessment of Joyce—“too terribly would-be and done-on-purpose, utterly without spontaneity or real life”—to which I say, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Much more magically, this copy contains photographs of me and my mom and Aine. Look at how happy we all were back then! These were from my birthday, in 2010 or even earlier.

 

 

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review 2016-10-04 00:00
Ulysses
Ulysses - James Joyce I read through half the book and spent the second half reading through a Ulysses companion, attempting to understand exactly what was written. I can say that James Joyce undoubtedly had skill and was able to imbue humor into this story, but like most other readers of this lengthy novel I found it very hard to stay entertained. And it's not Joyce's fault. I'm just going to stick to linear story telling...
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review 2016-09-14 00:30
James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner—A Gr... James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner—A Graphic Biography - Alfonso Zapico

I received a copy of this book through Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

 

This is definitely a very cool format for a biography.

 

Overall, I really liked the book. The artwork was superb. It was very interesting and often humorous (can't go wrong with depicting Joyce vomiting).

 

I did feel like the book was narration-driven with the artwork just backing up the narration. But once in a while the pictures helped give more detail to vague descriptions in the narration. The narration itself was often pretty simple, but gave a good idea of what was going on during Joyce's life socially, professionally, and politically.

 

The artwork is what really sold me on this book though. I definitely would like to check out more of Zapico's work (and of course read something by Joyce).

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review 2016-07-09 00:00
James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner
James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner - Alfonso Zapico Interesting graphic novel biography of Joyce, though why the publishers felt it necessary to put graphic novel in inverted commas I'll never know. Sounds like he was a deeply unpleasant user of a person.
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text 2016-07-05 14:42
Bloomsday: the Novel

June 16, 1904 is the day James Joyce famously went on the first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. Famously because that date later served as the setting for his novel Ulysses, that bastion of modern--and Modern--literature that has challenged, delighted, frustrated, alienated and inspired readers for going on 100 years now. The day itself has grown to the status of a cult holiday, celebrated by a very specific set of book nerds around the world.

 

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang is, naturally, set on June 16, 2004, the celebration of 100 years since the story of Ulysses was set, but it is not strictly about Ulysses or Bloomsday to my great relief. For a difficult and smart book Ulysses has inspired a lot of kitsch in the Bloomsday celebrations in particular, but Lang avoids the rocks of a Bloomsday book, like Ulysses itself it is more in conversation with its source than mimicking it. The Sixteenth of June is heavily allusive in language and structure but it is also a distinct story. Lang uses the celebration and book as a launching point to explore the ways in which people interact with literature: as an academic exercise, as an escape as a way of understanding the world and ourselves, and sometimes just as a badge.

 

We follow three people in alternating chapters. Nora, a singer trained in opera but performing at a jazz lounge, is in an extended mourning over the death of her mother and dealing with the pressure of being engaged. Leopold is her fiancee and his brother Stephen is Nora's best friend.

 

The men reflect the personalities of their counterparts in Joyce. Leopold is domestic, workmanlike in his taste and outlook. Stephen is thoughtful and paralyzed by doubt. Nora escapes such caricature, which may be why she inherited the name of the real Nora instead of the invented Molly. Leo is ready for marriage. Stephen is not ready for anything and is worried about Nora's settling. Commitment, vocation, grief, all the keystones of a good quarter-life crisis.

 

It took me a few days to warm to the book. The first chapters are packed with allusions to Ulysses. It reminded me of online fan fictions where every popular trope and reference is crammed into the first paragraph, as if audiences will turn away if we don't see a crossed mirror and razor blade in the first 20 pages. The names might have pushed it over the top. I GET IT! Once I got over the names and things settled into a more reasonable pace the references were more clever and fit more naturally into the story and the story itself was able to stand on its own.

 

The friend who gave it to me never read Ulysses so you don't have to be a Joyce fan to enjoy The Sixteenth of June, but it helps. It is a clever novel, and much less intimidating than its inspiration. It is more enjoyable than groundbreaking. It is like fan fiction in its appeal but Lang has found a way to engage with her literary forebears without resorting to cheesy mimicry. If you don't get too pretentious about your fandom, and, yes, favorite books are a type of fandom, you should enjoy the way she brings Joyce's work into the 21st century. You may also want to go back and dive into Ulysses again and I am glad for any work encouraging that.

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