“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe…”
Perhaps more than any other medium, it is vital to consider the context in which a book was written. This is difficult with legendary Irish writer James Joyce as by all accounts his novels are all very different and difficult to define. I haven’t read Joyce’s best known novel Ulysses but from what I understand it is virtually unreadable in parts so I was surprised to find Dubliners an incredibly simple and straightforward collection of short stories. Joyce’s style in Dubliners is actually very similar to his friend and contemporary Ernest Hemingway, blank but emotional, stark and honest, always honest. Hemingway valued truth above all and in Dubliners you imagine that Joyce has accurately and unsparingly captured life in the Irish capital in the early years of the 20th century.
Every story in Dubliners is emotionally resonant and compelling but it is final story The Dead that perhaps leaves the most lasting impression. This tale of a family party told through the eyes of outwardly confident but inwardly doubtful teacher Gabriel Conroy perfectly captures the feeling of appearing awkward and isolated even when surrounded by friends and family. The hyper realism and accurate rendering of a boozy evening recalls both the aforementioned Hemingway as well as barfly musicians like Tom Waits.
As with most books I have read in the past six months, I didn’t choose to read Dubliners but I am sincerely glad that I did. Dublin is a city that will always be close to my heart as my wife and I were engaged there and Joyce’s writing encapsulates the mix of the political, literary and drinking culture that still remains in Dublin over a century later.
Despite my enjoyment of Dubliners, I’m still not sure I am ready for Ulysses, but I will certainly be giving A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a go at some point in the near future.