Are you still there Team Ulysses?
Despite the cloud of Icelandic volcanic ash currently shrouding UK airspace we have the summit in our sights, and trying to be very efficient I read this month's chunk of Ulysses on my e reader whilst travelling on the train up to London about three weeks ago. The journey flew by and I was sufficiently engrossed and interested to be worried between Reading and Paddington that I wouldn't have time to finish the chapter, and I definitely wanted to.
One heck of a lot of reading water has travelled under the bridge since then, so coming back to it now felt like quite a challenge until I opened the book again, and this time not the electronic version but my much-loved and now very well-read paper version.
I remember thinking as I read and paused for the occasional gaze across the scenery flying by, how few people may have read this section of the book compared to the number that start reading Ulysses, and how sad to miss out on Eumaeus, and I suspect Ithaca and the final chapter Penelope to follow, and what I think may turn out to be the crowning glory and among the very best chapters in the book.
Best in that they are certainly among the most readable, defined in the notes in my copy (yes, I've looked at them occasionally this month) as 'narratively normal', but also for the content which suddenly seems to transform the book I've read and imbibed so far, and often through that great cloud of unknowing.
Suddenly I think it might all start to fall into place though I have to own up I still feel like the most naive reader James Joyce may ever have had.
Stephen Dedalus, by now legless from the demon drink, is in need of a father figure, and here I felt Leopold Bloom came into his own. I think I understood something about the pain of this man who continues to come across as consistently likeable... or have I got that wrong?
Is anyone else a fan of Poldy's?
Nothing has yet given me any cause to truly dislike any character I've come across in Ulysses, that can't be right, who have I forgotten that I should be hating...even Blazes Boylan doesn't seem the sleaze that he's supposed to be to me.
But caveat lector say those notes and imagine my surprise when they proceed to suggest that I should be frantically confused about whose narrative voice I might be listening to...an ominiscient one...or was is Stephen's or Bloom's, whilst I was also supposed to be deeply anxious about the dissolution of these boundaries.
In fact I just sank into Eumaeus with a sense of huge relief at the ease of the reading after so many readerly challenges to get there. Whilst knowing (well, not knowing actually but thank you to the notes for telling me) that Eumaeus was a good and loyal swineherd who gets Odysseus out of a spot of bother I couldn't help allowing the word to slip into Emmaus with its biblical connotations of companionship along the road.
That worked in two ways, both from the Stephen-Bloom meeting but also from knowing that some of you have been reading this at the same time as me.
Yet whilst busily thinking about all the Odysseyian connections I was missing, which incidentally I would really love to rectify after this with some Homeric reading, I had completely forgotten that Hamlet features powerfully here too. I've done Hamlet to death over the years so I'm surprised not to have clocked that one sooner.
So have I been seduced by the ease of reading not to be prompted by the 'vigilance' and 'scepticism' the notes suggest?
Lisa in Oz explains it all so well here , and I think she may have forged on in her summit attempt, gone ahead to get the pitons knocked in for us to hang on to. In travelling with us Lisa has written the most incredibly comprehensive reader guide to Ulysses which will stand as a wonderful record of this amazing journey, because Team Ulysses we are but one Ithaca camp away from our final Penelope attempt on the summit on June 16th 2010.