Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Today is Bloomsday, the day of the events of James Joyce's novel Ulysses.

I confess that I have never finished Ulysses. I have, however, got further than many - the bookmark in my copy is at p. 856 of 933, in the middle of the 'Ithaca' issue, a little more than a dozen pages before Molly Bloom's monologue. It seems silly that I never got to the end - I guess I just got distracted by something else that needed doing, and never got back to it. It's so long since I read it now I would surely have to start again. (I nearly read it along with an online acquaintance, but didn't have time.)

That copy is a Chinese Yilin Press edition bought in 1997 in Changchun, I guess because I was looking for something to read in English that actually looked worth my time. It's a pirated copy of the 1992 Penguin with Declan Kiberd's introduction.

When I started Ulysses it was a revelation. The first chapter is full of Classical references - Buck Mulligan quotes Xenophon - and, of course, the whole work refashions Homer's Odyssey. I was gripped by the early chapters (which makes it all the more surprising that I never managed to finish the novel). I revisited the first one today, and I still like it.

It also gave me an insight into Thucydides. I could see similarities in their writing styles, and I came to believe that both writers were interested in the full possibilities of their respective languages, and in choosing exactly the right words to express the precise meaning that that wanted to express. That many not be an observation that modern Thucydidean scholars would subscribe to. But it works for me. I must read this book again.