Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Book 12 of 2013: Dubliners by James Joyce

I read Dubliners last year in preparation for my Open University A230 Literature course. Originally I’d planned just to dip into the bits covered in the course book, but then as the time to actually study it got closer, I decided to just go ahead and reread it. I think that’s probably been for the best because when I was working on the two chapters it was much fresher in my mind.

I actually found this one harder to read than the first time around. I think that’s because since this course started I’ve been looking at the course books slightly differently to the books I just read for fun. I can’t say exactly how it is that I’m reading them differently, I think I’m just taking more time over them, in preparation for picking bits out for assignments and discussions.

I started the course book chapter for this slightly before I started the reread, so it drew my attention to the structure of the book. Dubliners is a collection of short stories, all of which are set in the city of Dublin. It begins with a story told through the eyes of a young boy and gradually the people that the stories focus on grow up. I think it was something I noticed a little bit the first time around, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was I was seeing. This time, because I knew it was there, I really noticed it and I definitely appreciated that.

I think that my favourite story was ‘The Boarding House’ which is basically a story of a woman who runs a boarding house, and has thrown her daughter, Polly, at one of the men staying there, in order to secure her a husband. It’s not exactly a story of a domestic harmony, but it’s a simple little story and I found it one of the easiest ones to follow. The last two in the book were really long, I found those tricky to follow and just struggled to get the motivation to actually finish them.

The first time around I liked the way that they were just little snapshots of the lives of the people they followed. This time I wasn’t too keen on that. I found myself getting into the stories and then they would end. Whereas before I felt like we were just moving on and leaving the story behind, as though it was going to continue whether we were watching or not; this time I just felt like they were abrupt endings and that frustrated me with some of the stories.

One thing that I have come to appreciate is the openings to the stories as well as the way the Joyce describes people and things. I’ve never been to Dublin, but I was able to imagine it really clearly. The way that people are described occasionally made them seem a bit like caricatures, or cartoony, but it works in the context. I think the fact that I really enjoyed the openings made the endings feel that little bit more disappointing; they drew me in so quickly, but then I was dropped at the end almost without warning.

I am thinking that I would like to read some more of Joyce’s work at some point in the future; when I’ve finished this course though.

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