" A long narrative requires impersonation, hallucinating when you don't know the answer, turning water into wine, making a silk purse out of a string of coloured scarves and extracting a white rabbit from a sow's ear, knowing how and when to hold the carrot in front of the donkey's nose and sublime confidence..."
William Maxwell on the raptures of reading per se, but somehow that feels like a perfect fit for this year-long reading of Ulysses, and I'm in raptures along with some of you today so please excuse the bling...
In fact I can hardly breath I'm so excited and I have to keep pinching myself when I look at this too...
This seemingly impossible book which has warmed and moulded to my hand (thank you OUP) and been seen all over the house for the last year and now we're there and soon I'll be putting it on the shelf...or will I?
I think I will dip into it for evermore and I may just buy the most beautiful edition I can find too.
I finished Ulysses...or Oolissays as I now discover James Joyce called it, reading Penelope on Saturday morning and very appropriately lying in bed, though thankfully and unlike Molly without a pair of smelly feet in my face.
What a sensational and fitting last section this proved to be, especially given my increasing awareness of the Odyssean connections as the book has progressed. To finally meet Molly and hear her side of the story, her life before and her life now with Poldy, and how odd that this wasn't the Molly that I felt I knew. Penelope was a complete revelation, Molly much more down-to-earth than the book had led me to believe
And I walked on a cloud for the rest of the day because I feel as I've joined a club... I've finally read it and as we strolled through Launceston I wanted to stop people and say
'...erm...excuse me but I've read Ulysses'.
Whilst casting no literary aspersions on the good people of Launceston I doubt anyone would have been impressed, so I didn't and the urge soon passed.
But I couldn't possibly have done it without the cheerful company of Team Ulysses.
Those who have read along too, those who have cheered us from the sidelines in comments and been there with the hot soup when we've needed it and all those lovely words of encouragement .
I must also thank Declan Kibberd who really cranked the whole thing into life for me with his book Ulysses and Us and its reassuring clarion call for the book to be returned to the ordinary reader, for pleasurable reading, not academic dissection.
The people like his Dublin-born father who had imbibed it throughout his life and the assertion that this is the work of a storyteller not a novelist.
Declan doesn't know it (he doesn't do the internet, though I did meet his editor when I was at Faber recently and asked him to convey my thanks and I will write to him properly now) but his encouraging words saved my bacon on several occasions.
There can be something daunting about knowing I have committed to reading a book like this and then actually having to.
Writing from the heart about it each month, especially on those months when I might not have felt like picking it up (and reader as you know, there were some, but I did) or when I hadn't really followed a word, just emerged with a mood rather than comprehension.
The chance find of a book by Frank Delaney has helped immeasurably too, and he does know because I e mailed to thank him very early on in the read. James
Joyce's Odyssey- A Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses has added even more visual substance to this wonderful writing. Incidentally you might want to check out Frank Delaney's regular weekly five minute podcasts of extracts from Ulysses together with his sharing of the unraveling of it all and starting on his website today...the lilting Irish accent .. oh you won't want to miss that.
I think I'm about to start all over again and for anyone who missed the 'off' last Bloomsday, well there you go, another chance perhaps?
Nor do I use 'wonderful writing' lightly or in a fawning way. Ulysses has been a memorable read, so much of the book, even the tricky parts, have harmonised their way into the deepest recesses of my memory. I have a strange feeling that when I'm tucked up in a nursing home at ninety I may have forgotten the name of the Prime Minister and be hopeless at counting backwards from a hundred and subtracting four each time, but I'll be loudly proclaiming
'If others have their will Ann hath a way. By cock she was to blame'
and I'll probably be put on stronger meds.
It was William Butler Yeats's birthday at the weekend and The Writer's Almanac celebrated with his poem The Second Coming. Now when I started this I had no idea beyond a vaguely confirmed assumption that Yeats and Joyce were contemporaries, writing at about the same time, presumably with their eyes fixed on similar worlds. Yeats I then discover born at Sandymount where Ulysses opens, and I discover late in the Team Ulysses day that James Joyce was his protege.
'Turning and turning on the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand....
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?'
The Second Coming published in 1921 and in its entirety a poem of incredible beauty and potency that seems open to a wide range of interpretations, the obvious contemporaneous ones, but for me almost ninety years on, right now, this minute, I can allow it to hold relevant Ulyssesian ones.
If ever a book set the literary world aflame Ulysses was surely the one.
The book that upturned the tables in the temple and let loose something dangerous and seemingly uncontrollable on the literary world.
Things did fall apart, the 'ceremony of innocence ' was indeed drowned, the book's very style and explicitness opened new doors, new ways of thinking and writing; its detractors hated it with that 'passionate intensity', the censors thundered down from on high.
If ever a book rocked the gentle literary cradle to nightmare, dissent and a change of rhythm this was surely it... has there been one since?
I can't think of one.
Perhaps it's true to say that literature has indeed been unwittingly yet steadily treading and searching that path ever thereafter as it 'slouches towards Bethlehem' and all thanks to James Joyce. From my lofty perch on the top of this mountain, with this flippin' flag flapping in my face, I understand that and so much more now.
Thank you Team Ulysses, it's been the most fantastic climb, you've helped me achieve one huge lifelong reading ambition and I've loved doing it with you.
So shall we reconvene here, rested and ready for Team Tolstoy and Anna Karenina (or do you want to do War and Peace?....No?....are you sure?) on September 9th 2010...Tolstoy's birthday.