Dubliners by James Joyce

I didn't think I'd ever pick up another James Joyce book after my first attempt, but I'm an easy mark for anything Irish and the title got me. When I was reading the irritating awkwardness that is Ulysses, I remember thinking that Joyce would be a good story teller if he would just get on with it; still I was surprised by how good the writing is in these stories.

I sometimes find it hard to get interested in a short story because they're, well, short, but I had no problem getting into any of these. Some don't have much of a plot but they have characters that grab you and won't let go. All of the stories are about, as the title indicates, Dubliners, people living, working, playing, partying, loving and dying in Dublin. Each one is a snapshot of a few hours or a few days in a Dubliners' life. The first few are quite sombre, but later on a little more light begins to seep into the stories. In the end they are all a little sad, but they make for good reading.

These are the stories:

The Sisters - a boy's friend, a priest, dies and he goes with his aunt to visit the sisters of the deceased. 
 An Encounter - a boy and his friend skip school to go exploring and they have an uncomfortable encounter with a strange man.
Araby - a boy has a crush on a girl and makes her a promise he isn't able to keep
Eveline - a girl longs to escape the drabness of her life and her boyfriend gives her the chance if she only has the courage to take it.
After The Race - a young man gets a taste of what he sees as the good life
Two Gallants - a couple of young prostitute-seeking men are out for an evening on the town
The Boarding House - a woman running a boarding house has an unexpected opportunity to marry off her daughter
A Little Cloud - a timid man resents the more exciting life of his friend and finds no comfort in his home life
Counterparts -a frustrated, belittled office worker walks away from his job and takes it out on his son
Clay - Maria spends an evening visiting friends
A Painful Case - a man's quiet life is upset when he is befriended by a woman and her family and she sees it as more than friendship
Ivy Day In The Committee - election workers talk about the campaign over drinks
A Mother - the mother of a piano accompanist makes a scene at a concert
Grace - a man who drinks too much is invited by his friends to a spiritual retreat where it is hoped he will mend his ways
The Dead - a man and his wife attend a party at the home of his elderly aunts

Some of my favourite lines:

"He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her."

"She sat amid the chilly circle of her accomplishments waiting for some suitor to brave it and offer her a brilliant life."

"He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad."

They all sound rather cheerless, but really they're very good stories and beautifully written. I never thought I'd say it, but I like this James Joyce book. 



Melody said...

I loved a few of these stories, but most of them left me rather ambivalent. I'm sure that part of that is due to the fact that I seem to have a healthy dose of reverse snobbery (if something is very popular it must be very bad) and so I was looking for things to dislike. Silly me. I'll have to give it another go at some point. On the topic of Irish authors, have you read any Sebastian Barry?

Ordinary Reader said...

Hi Melody. No I haven't read Sebastian Barry. Anything in particular you would recommend?

Jason C. said...

I also had a very unpleasant experience attempting to read Ulysses. Have you read "Portrait" by any chance? That one is actually pretty darn good.

"The Dead" is one of the best short stories, um, ever. This is coming from a guy who doesn't like Joyce very much. I have a short review of this collection on my site if you are interested in checking out.

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