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This excellent collection of stories in many ways is a hard read. It is not a feel-good book that restores your faith in human goodness and the joy of living. Often the stories are very bleak and rather depressing, but I do think they are very realistic, perhaps because of this. What is clear though is that these stories are written with such skill that reading them is a joy in terms of critically analysing them and being open to what Joyce is trying to convey through them. Thus I have mixed reactions to them.
I have to agree with accessteacher (#3) on this one. I have never much enjoyed reading James Joyce, and I have read his short stories and even Ulysses. (I got talked into taking a college class on Joyce by a teacher whol loved him. I had never heard of his. I did all right in the class, but probably because the professor was so enthusiastic and helpful—I remember that there was a time during the class when I struggled with Joyce's work, but something finally clicked so I could at least find some understanding in what he was talking about. His style is difficult to connect with—the stories are not the kind you pick up and settle down to read some afternoon with a cup of coffee or tea.
The stories are not inspiring—they do not uplift the reader, but often (though realistically) concentrate on the seamy side of life. I prefer stories where characters may have to struggle, but they rise above their circumstances—if not to defeat them, to at least demonstrate admirable characteristics in the face of life's adversities. These characters battle their way through life, often with great unhappiness or severe conflict. Joyce was greatly influenced by Henrik Ibsen. I'd much rather curl up with one of his plays.
I found much of the book beautifully written when I first read it (many years ago). The closing paragraphs of "The Dead" are among the most haunting I have ever read:
Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
The filmed version of this episode, in John Huston's film, is also very beautiful:
On the other hand, I don't recall another of the stories affecting me this deeply. This is a book I need to re-read.
Not really. I did a few essays for college on The Dubliners, but nothing in it stuck with me or made an impact. I may have enjoyed it if I had read it on my own. I have not read anything else by Joyce, but research on his two most famous novels -- Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake -- leads me to believe that they are on the style-over-substance side of writing.
I enjoy complex stories. I think that's why I like books like this. The language is dense, so I would not say it's exactly fun to read, but I like the development of the plot and characters. I also like the sophistication of the characters.
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