Ulysses by James Joyce

“I fear those big words, Stephen said, Which make us so unhappy” by James Joyce in Ulysses

From Lauren’s Perspective:

A lot of people are going to disagree with me on this one.  A lot of people may even get angry at the words I’m about to write, but nonetheless I feel as though I have to share my opinion on this classic and well-known book.

So here it is:  It’s impossible.  Just absolutely impossible.  And perhaps I feel this way because I simply don’t have the intelligence necessary to read and understand a book of this caliber, but I also don’t have the desire to understand it any better either, and that says a lot to me.  In most cases, I would be happy to read almost any book.  And once I begin, I will not put it down until the last word.  However, in the case of Ulysses,  my enjoyment was gone by the second chapter.

To me, reading has to be, first and foremost, entertaining.  There are many different reasons to read a book:  to learn, to feel, to discover new worlds; but more than all of that, reading is a form of entertainment.  And just as when you are watching a movie or listening to a band play your favourite song, you have to be having a certain amount of fun.  Ulysses was wretchedly unfun.

I read this book for my fourth year seminar class at University.  The very last class I took before graduation, and it was one of the scariest classes I ever attended.  I read the first hundred and fifty pages of the book and understood nothing.  I reread the hundred and fifty pages two or three times because the words and the characters and the plot just would not stick and I still understood nothing.  I wanted to give up.  I felt as though I didn’t have the training necessary to read this novel.  I understood the words (mostly), but the historical knowledge along with the books unique style made it almost impossible to follow.  I started feeling stupid, and no one wants to feel that way when reading.  You want to feel rewarded for gaining new knowledge not unintelligent for not knowing the inner workings of a deceased authors brain.

And along with the historical knowledge I didn’t have, there were references to Homer’s The Odyssey, which Joyce’s novel was written against, that left me feeling clueless once more.  I began to realize that not only would I have to understand everything occurring in Irish history at the time this novel took place, I would also have to read and study Homer to fully appreciate the humour found within the cryptic pages.  I had done neither of these things.  And I had no intention of doing either of these things.

So, while I do understand people’s fascination with this novel, I don’t really regard it as a novel.  To me, it is a puzzle.  To me, it is a riddle.  And if you enjoy solving riddles about the  intricacies of Joyce’s mind, then perhaps you would adore this book.  For me, I just want to read beautiful words, in beautiful structures, sharing beautiful story’s.  And this did not fulfill any of those requirements.  Sure there were extremely well written sentences (albeit few and far between), and yes, the involved plot probably took a lot of work and effort to weave together, but overall I felt nothing.  Because I understood nothing.

My professor loved this book.  Obviously.  He had been teaching it for decades and knew it inside and out.  He laughed out loud at sentences and wanted to show his students the attention to detail that Joyce obviously put into writing this very complex book.  I don’t want to take that away from anybody.  Love for a book like that is one of my favourite things in the world.  So like I said, if you have the mind to understand a book of this caliber, and you too understand the tricky writing style, then you should feel very proud of yourself for the accomplishment of such a book.  But for me, personally, I will always prefer a book that doesn’t require a years worth of research to understand, and a book that allows me to connect with the characters rather than confusing the absolute hell out of me.


Plot – 0 out of 5
Writing/Style/Form – 2 out of 5
Characters – 0 out of 5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 0 0ut of 5

Overall Score – 2 out of 20 (ouch)




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3 responses to “Ulysses by James Joyce

  1. Loryn

    Ahhh, you make me laugh…but seriously, please feel free to totally neglect your study of Irish history, BUT, read The Odyssey…you might be surprised, or, you might just be happy to knock it off that list of 100 classic books everyone should read. You’ll be one up on me for sure as after hearing you talk about this, I will NEVER be reading anything by Joyce.

  2. laurengowing

    I’d like to make it clear, I have nothing against learning about Irish history. In general. But not as a prerequisite for reading a novel. In fact, I would recommend you learn about Irish history instead of reading this novel.

  3. Loryn

    That shouldn’t be difficult for me to do.

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