Last week Blasted began a new challenge for a new year, a literary odyssey: Ulysses in twelve parts of (approximately) eighty pages each. Bobby Dickson, Erika Sella and Andrew R. Hill explain their reasons for wanting tackle this important and intimidating Modernist epic, and their first impressions.
Do you remember the expectations about losing your virginity? Before even learning about the logistics, you have these premonitions about how successful it will undoubtedly be; a tryst that is incomparably passionate and profound, moves the earth and heavens, 'What exalted love making!' the Angels declare. Whereas in reality you have no idea what you're doing and finish way too quickly. The Angels laugh.
The same goes for my first attempt at Ulysses, (though I can't remember the same jostling amongst friends to be the first to achieve this particular accolade). Being a bit older now with a little more practice, I'm attempting a slightly more passionate dalliance between the covers. I will leave the allusions to humping there.
I think anyone who takes serious pleasure in writing or reading 'of itself ' has to give it a go. It's fitting that the greatest work of fiction of the Twentieth Century (despite all the intricate weaving of Irish myths, Greek legends and more modern parables) should follow a relatively simple plot, which - given a little care and attention - will reward even the most modest reader, such as myself.
It's a great idea to read the book as a group, we can support and spur each other on. A target of eighty pages a week is just the right amount to take a decent chunk out of the book but still have sufficient time for some reflection. On top of that I suppose it's a novel way (excuse the pun) to connect with people, reading normally being a solitary affair. B.D.
I'm not sure about what I have to say about the first eighty pages of Ulysses. It feels like getting to know someone who is terribly interesting yet distant and vaguely stand-offish. A struggle, but definitely worth it.
I think Joyce is trying to break away from the conventional novel from the very start of the book. He is already playing about with the three classic unities (time, space, action). I am an admirer of Brecht's and Godard's work, so this should be right 'up my street', but the truth is that so far I am mildly alienated and find it really hard to engage.
I first came across Ulysses at high school (I was about seventeen, I think). We only had to read a small section of the book, and I remember it was Molly’s soliloquy. I was stunned.
Whilst I really liked the idea of Ulysses, but I decided to undertake reading Dubliners instead (short stories suit me because I tend to be a rather lazy reader)…. I finally bought the book last June, on my birthday. I tried to read it during my lunch break and in the evenings, but my heart wasn’t in it.
This is my first serious attempt at tackling a really important book, and I hope that doing it collectively will help overcoming the many stumbling blocks that I am sure I will meet along the way. E.S.
“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the sta…” – and that’s about as far as I would get before the dreaded tome was ignominiously – pseudo-heretically, even, for someone with as consistent an admiration for the Modernists as myself - flung across the room in a fit of pique. Ulysses and I go back six or seven years, when I was in my second year of an English Literature degree, a degree I never completed. Looking back, Ulysses marked the point where things started to go wrong. Neither the book nor the course were beyond my abilities - far from it - but a variety of issues both personal and educational intersected at a point that may as well have been 16 June 1904 (it certainly seems long enough ago). What followed is best left untold, but, needless to say, I gave up on Ulysses and university followed suit, albeit in a far more protracted manner.
Over the years I’ve thought about a return to Ulysses many times, but now seems right – it’s too important a book to continue to ignore, especially as both a would-be critic and a would-be writer of various stripes. It is the book of the Twentieth Century. And I have willing accomplices, so why not?
Now we’ve begun our nine hundred and thirty three page odyssey through a day in Dublin, what do I have to say about the first eighty pages (arbitrarily chosen number – it means we’ll get through it in approximately twelve digestible chunks)? Not a whole lot yet, I am starting to almost enjoy the book. One extraordinary sequence that stood out came on pages nine through ten, Stephen Dedalus’ melancholic – almost sensuous - recollection of his late mother, “Phantasmal mirth, folded away: muskperfumed”. For all that there’s a score to settle, this may be even more rewarding than I might have anticipated. Next stop, Finnegan’s Wake… Or maybe just page one hundred and sixty.
One revelation that may help any other readers out there that may have found themselves discouraged in the first few pages – Buck Mulligan is an arsehole. He’s the first character you meet, and he disappears relatively quickly (although he may yet resurface). Persevere. A.R.H.
The 'Ulysses' book club continues in earnest. Others are welcome to join in, please comment below or email us here. We're using the Penguin edition and page one hundred and sixty is due by the end of the week.