According to Jack Murnighan, author of Beowulf on the Beach, and I'm paraphrasing here, James Joyce was far too intelligent for his own good and puts it on gaudy display in Ulysses to the point where he might be the only one who actually gets all the jokes. I have no reason on earth to dispute that conclusion. Thankfully, my goal was not to understand the book, but to get a feel for it. I wanted to have a "big picture" when I was finished and an idea as to whether or not I would like to potentially revisit the book in more detail sometime in the future or if a passing familiarity is good enough. I've waffled between both of those answers a number of times during the book, but I believe I will ultimately come back to Ulysses in the future. It's a weird piece of work, no doubt about it. However, even though large portions of it were lost on me, I think I can see why it has attained the place it has in the world of literature. It will never be my favorite classic, but I respect it. And if the truth be told, I liked it in a currently-inexpressible kind of way.
It was a lot like reading The Faerie Queene in that I had times of complete lucidity and I was thinking, "Wow! This is really good!" Then all of a sudden I was mired in long passages where I had no clue at all what was going on. As long as I stayed focused on my goal of "the big picture", I was good. I do admit to serious frustration during some of the more difficult chapters. Remember the episode of I Love Lucy when she went to work in the chocolate factory?
That was how I felt sometimes. The thing was just getting away from me. But then the chapter (aka "Episode") would be over, I'd read more Sparknotes, I'd get a fresh grip, and I did okay. My method was to read the Sparknotes for an Episode before the actual book so I had a preview of what it was about. That was the correct way for me to handle it. It gave me the ability to pick up bits of the story even in the midst of utter confusion.
It's difficult to know what to say about Ulysses, what other potential readers may be curious about. In light of that, here are a few of the random notes I jotted during the reading:
Do you ever starting thinking about one thing, then minutes later you're thinking about something completely different and wonder how on earth you got to that subject? Ulysses is just like that!
Keeping track as well as you can of which parts of The Odyssey Ulysses is paralleling does help with the more difficult episodes. They didn't make a ton more sense, but at least I felt I could understand why they were presented in the manner they were. The Sparknotes Reading Guide was very helpful with this.
(Thoughts From Episode Six: Hades) I loved all the distracted thoughts during the funeral! Unless the deceased is someone close, I'll bet that's what's going on in most of our brains during funeral services.
I didn't realize that Ulysses was written in so many different styles. For example, I knew about the stream-of-consciousness aspect that permeates the entire work, but there is one episode written in a manner that follows the development of the English language beginning with early English and ending with what at the time was modern slang. Another is written entirely in "question and answer" format.
If any of you have a question about reading Ulysses, please ask! I'll answer the best I can. This was the book I feared above all others, and maybe I can make it a bit less scary for other readers. Maybe. :-)