I recently read Dubliners by James Joyce and was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by it all. I was eager to see how I’d receive the book as I am an outsider living in Dublin for the last few years. I know people dedicate their lives to the works of James Joyce and these Joycean scholars would disagree with me but I simply could not see what made Dubliners one of the ‘must read’ books. I found it tedious and slow at times, dedicating long descriptions to people and details which seemed trivial. That said, it was easy to see the skill of Joyce’s writing and the book comprising of fifteen short stories had a common theme and had clever links to tie some of the stories together.
Theses short stories were written at a time of great change in Ireland. It is clear that Joyce had nationalist tendencies and there was a great shift in Ireland towards the Irish language and culture. Each character in the book has an epiphany in their respective stories and Joyce has some wonderful descriptions of these, my favourite being Mr. James Duffy whose moment of illumination was described as ‘No one wanted him; he was outcast from life’s feast.’ I thought this was a wonderful way to describe a man realizing that life had passed him by.
I enjoyed the historical context of the book, it was published over one hundred years ago and it was interesting comparing the Dublin of old with the modern city. Faraway suburbs mentioned in the book have now been engulfed by the city, the streets where many of the characters live and more importantly socialize are still the hive of drunks and beggars. I could not help myself from laughing at the consistent and well linked tram service which existed in Dublin then, which serviced the whole city. Modern day Dubliners lament the ill advised destruction of these tram lines as they complain about the lack of transport in the city. Men worked and drank in pubs, women looked after the house and children. It was a very unequal society. There is no focus whatsoever on the lower classes which existed in Dublin, Joyce focused solely on the middle classes in the midst of the Cultural Revolution which existed in Ireland.
Joyce makes a nauseating effort to mention streets, shops and place names in the book, I can see why it is so popular with the people of Dublin and emigrants alike, it describes places and people at length and Joyce captures the colloquial Irish dialogue expertly. It would certainly paint a vivid picture to anyone abroad of a vibrant romantic city bustling with ideas and characters but I suppose this is why it remains so popular with the Irish diasporas. I for one, didn’t care too much for this aspect of the book and felt it overshadowed the stories.
Dubliners is a fine book, but it is not one of the all time great novels in my opinion, I wish Joyce finished off some of the short stories in the book because they just seem to stop but making you wonder what the characters decide next was Joyces intention I suppose. I intend to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the coming weeks and hopefully I’ll revise my verdict of Dubliners