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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
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 2015-04-10 04:47
Review: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Seamus Deane,James Joyce

I felt a little lost at some points during this one. Parts of it seem a little disjointed, mostly near the start of the book. Maybe I just misunderstood somehow, but Stephan is younger at first then he is during the later part of the book (ten vs sixteen or older - the first age is a guess). It seemed like he was just starting school and then right after going to university. Maybe I lost the plot at some point, or it really was just a sudden change in time.

I really need to start reading the summary of a book before reading it. I know I've read the summary at some point, but in some cases it's been months since I read the summary and it often confuses me.

I didn't really care all that much about this book, really. I cared more for the characters in this one then The House of Mirth, but that's about it. It was a little too religious for me in the end. If I'd re-read the summary, I wouldn't have been surprised but that's my fault.

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review 2015-01-22 11:08
Opens with the word 'Moocow'
A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man - James Joyce

Well, here is a portrait of an artist as a young man:





though I am not sure if that is the type of artist that Joyce was referring to when he wrote this book, so maybe this one would be a little better:


Percy Shelley


yet considering that this book is semi-autobiographical maybe, just maybe, this would be a better one:


James Joyce



Unfortunately, I would hardly say that he is a young man in this particular painting, and since it wasn't until 1916 when he published A Portrait of an Artist to critical acclaim, though though would make him 28, which means that he wasn't all that old either, but then again, that was the only painting of him of wikipedia that I could find.

Anyway on to the book. I must say you've got to love a work of modern literature that opens as follows:


Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down the along the road and that moocow that was coming down the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo …


What the? I thought this book was considered a classic and he uses the word 'Moocow' not once, not twice, but three times! Seriously, if I tried writing a literary masterpiece and used the word moocow then I'd probably be laughed out of the publishing house.

Then again, apparently you can self publish anything on Amazon these days (not that I'm criticising self publishing because the publishing houses do have this annoying habit of rejecting works that go on to become best sellers – it is just that self publishing does not necessarily have the same quality control, but if you are like me, trying to find somebody who will be willing to edit your book is nigh impossible – actually, maybe it is just me).

Anyway, I find some books a little difficult to write about because the book itself simply engrosses you in the same way that a work of art draws you into it, and you are in a way left speechless. In a way words simply cannot describe how the book impacts you, and this is certainly one of those books. It is interesting how it is written though because it is not the standard third person narrative – Joyce tried that with his first draft (Stephen Hero – which ended up being scrapped) yet I cannot say that it is stream of consciousness either (though Joyce does use elements). Wikipedia says that the style is more a mix of third person narrative with free indirect speech though I would have to say that the style in itself differs from anything that I have read previously. Maybe that is why it comes in at third on the editors list of 20th Century great novels (and ironically Ulysses comes in at number one).

Well, the story itself is about a young man's, named Stephen Daedelus, which is a pseudonym for James Joyce (not that there is anything wrong with writing an autobiography that is not strictly an autobiography, but is in fact an autobiography – I know, I've tried it, not that I've published anything yet because, like a lot of writers, it isn't perfect – and probably never will be), journey through his teenage years attending a strict catholic school and how he decides to reject the priesthood and become a writer.

It is interesting because one of the most confronting parts of the novel is where he is at a school camp and is listening to a sermon on hell and is struck so much as to how horrible hell is that he immediately goes to confession and recants of his sins (and he had been a pretty sinful person up until that time). It is funny because after that first confession he immediately feels this sense of relief, which is almost like a drug, because when it begins to go away he then goes to confession again, and again, and again, to experience this feeling of 'forgiveness' (if that is what you call it). However, the more he goes to confession, the less the feeling comes about afterwards, to the point that he begins to wonder whether it is working anymore.

That really got me thinking because it does make me wonder whether this whole idea of divine forgiveness has drug like attributes because it does have some psychological effect upon you. The feeling of relief that you have when you realise that the sins of your past, and the guilt that you suffered, no longer holds you down can give you a really pleasurable rush, yet the more you seek that rush, the less fulfilling that rush becomes until such a time that it becomes part and parcel of life – however you cannot escape from it because your mind has latched onto this need for forgiveness that you continue to perform the rituals despite it not having the same effect.

Now, it is also interesting that Daedelus is then approached to join the priesthood, yet in his mind he is surprised that the priests seem to think that he is this worthy candidate. Daedelus knows that he is not worthy of such a post, yet others seem to think that he is. It makes me wonder about the whole selection process churches use to pick their leaders. Mind you, since I am a protestant I cannot comment on the Catholic Church, however leaders within the protestant church are generally selected by their 'godly' character, as well as their sociability. Not all protestant churches are like that, but I have been to some who seem to bring those who get along with people and are social butterflies into the leadership ranks, yet I have sometimes questioned whether the ethical character of some of these people warrant that. Mind you, there is no such thing as a perfectly ethical person, however there are times when a person who is unsuited to such a role is brought itnand the result can be a disaster. The reason I say that is because when you are a leader you suddenly have this respect – people look up to you, and that respect has a danger of going to people's heads, and if that happens there is a danger of a 'cult of personality' being created.

Then there is the use of the name Daedelus. Daedelus is an ancient Greek mythological figure who is famous for creating the labyrinth in Crete where the minotaur lived, a fake bull that was designed to lure a bull to have sex with a woman so that the minotaur could be created, and wings to enable him and his son Icarus to escape. The thing about Daedelus is that he was imprisoned by King Minos on Crete, which seems to reflect the feeling that Joyce found himself imprisoned in Ireland. Despite most (if not all) of his works being set in Ireland, he spent most of his life in self imposed exile. That is something I can relate to because Ireland had a lot of issues – it was ruled by the English and there were strong tensions between the Protestants and Catholics, and the Irish and the English. It was also pretty much a backwater, though had probably come some way since the potato famine. Still, this was the turn of the century, and despite the English having invested huge amounts of money in colonies such as Australia and India, Ireland was more like occupied territory where the inhabitants were kept in a state of subjugation and oppression, which resulted in an uprising during World War I.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1169504044
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text 2014-09-08 20:46
#BookADayUK Day Eight: Best Fictional Dinner Party
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Seamus Deane,James Joyce
A Storm of Swords - George R.R. Martin

The best dinner party occurs in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Young Stephen is at the table when a viscous argument about Irish politics breaks out between his father and aunt. Even though I did not understand the context, that dining room table fight absolutely bolted me to the floor. And, really, Joyce is counting on you not precisely to get it, because that disorientation is part of the reader feeling Stephen's growing panic, allowing the politics to stand in for other, more simmering resentments.


"Best" is maybe an awkward descriptor for this dinner party. Certainly there are many other dinner parties I would rather attend, like Bilbo and the dwarves at the start of The Hobbit, or even Mrs Dalloway's tragically interrupted party at the end of her eponymous novel. But I don't know. Joyce's domestic battle was so raw, so complicated, packing in all of this subtext in a few nasty lines, and simultaneously casting the reader as Stephen whether you want to be or not. I've been at that table too. I've had those fights. 


My first instinct was to pick The Red Wedding from GRRM's Storm of Swords as the best dinner party, just for the lulz. But George Martin's got nothing on Joyce in terms of bloodbath and betrayal. Joyce has less literal bloodbath, but that doesn't mean you're not bleeding. Leaving the table with just a slit throat would be an improvement sometimes. Boo yah. Erin go bragh. 


A wedding invitation for the characters from the red wedding, which is splattered with blood

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review 2014-06-15 19:11
Review: James Joyce, A Short Introduction by Michael Seidel
James Joyce, a Short Introduction (Blackwell Introductions to Literature) - Michael Seidel

The book is part of the Blackwell Introductions to Literature series, which aim to introduce novice readers to various literary authors or periods.  Seidel has written a compelling introductory book to one of modern literature's giants, James Joyce, whose books are anything but simple.  When reading Joyce, I would advise not only knowing sufficiently the context in which his books are placed, but also reading texts like this one parallel to, or just before embarking on the actual books proper.  There is then a richness developed by understanding Joyce's work more fully - the references, recurring characters, unusual word play, narrative techniques and much more.  Joyce was one of those writers whose every word was calculated to deliver a certain effect and to create multiple layers of meaning.  So while his books are challenging, they are also artistically beautiful and mind-bogglingly creative.  Simply put, they are a joy to read and reread.


Seidel's introductory text is particularly useful in that it really is accessible.  Its premise is that the reader is reading this text first and then Joyce's work, but I feel that would be much too challenging.  I would definitely recommend some reading of Joyce, especially the most accessible of the books, Dubliners, before (or simultaneously) reading Seidel's A Short Introduction.  It is helpful to have first hand knowledge of Joyce's style and familiarity with his narrative techniques so that Seidel's explanations then have a greater meaning, even though Seidel uses quotes generously to show his explanations.  What Seidel achieves beautifully here is what the back flap claims:

close attention to Joyce's words, phrases, and sentences is the best route to reading his works with insight and pleasure

The book is divided into 10 chapters beginning with 'Introducing Joyce', which offers background information on Joyce and his published works.  While the book seems like it will offer equal attention to all of his published books, it does not.  Dubliners is given fair attention, no easy feat since the book is itself a collection of 15 short stories that can have a book written on each one of them.  Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is given less critical attention, the information is rather more contextual with how the book came to be and with the links to the other texts, both in terms of theme and character, particularly Stephen Dedalus.  Exiles is given such a compelling critical assessment that I cannot wait to read it. It is, however, the shortest of the assessments.  Then Ulysses, of course, takes up the bulk of the analysis both in its own chapter and throughout other chapters discussing plots, levels of narration, strategic planning and so on.  What surprised me a great deal was the lack of any attempt to do equal justice to Finnegan's Wake, this title is only mentioned or cited in chapters where it is necessary to draw links or to use an example to drive home a point.  There is no detailed explanations, which begs the question, is it too difficult to be included in an introduction?  Perhaps it is, and Seidel feels that what he has equipped his novice with is sufficient to enjoy Joyce, at least on the first round of reading.  For to truly enjoy and appreciate Joyce, one would have to reread him.


One odd aspect in this book is the abrupt ending.  Not only is there no conclusive chapter that brings all the explanations together, to tie up the discussion, but there is not even a conclusive paragraph in the last chapter itself.  This was quite jarring and spoiled what would have otherwise been a terrific text.  I cannot guess what was going through Seidel's mind or that of the editor, but the ending does the book little justice.  After the many winding paths from all the links and associations made in the book, and the dizzying amount of characters discussed, a conclusion would have helped me smoothly digest all of the information.


A recommended read for anyone embarking on reading Joyce, or for those who wish to discover more on the themes and style of Joyce's books.


Samir Rawas Sarayji

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