25 July, 2012

I've Finished Ulysses!

Photo from Wikipedia
I thought this momentous occasion deserved a post in its own right. And an exclamation mark in the title of the post. Oh yes it did.

What a crazy book. It's taken me months to read as I've needed regular breaks and it's the only book I've ever read where I've needed to use Wikipedia to even understand what's happening (not a lot as it turns out). And yet, I don't hate it.

It was so difficult to read, I understood very little but I can't give it one out of 10. Of the 94 books I've read so far on the BBC Big Read Top 100, it's not my least favourite - least understood, but not my least favourite (that honour goes to On The Road by Jack Kerouac). I can't give it a high score, obviously - I almost couldn't finish. But some of the individual sentences were beautiful and made me want to re-read them over and over in awe.

Ulysses is written in 18 episodes - each in a different style. Some I hated, others I really liked. Episode 17 (Ithaca) was probably my favourite, written in the style of scientific questions and answers, but I also liked 7 (newspaper headlines), 13 (parody of romantic novellas) and 15 (play script with elaborate stage directions). To my complete surprise I also really enjoyed the final episode, Penelope, usually referred to as Molly's Soliloquy. I'd been dreading it - 42 pages with no punctuation at all (not even apostrophes) and only 8 paragraphs - but it was a masterpiece.

I can't say I'd reccommend Ulysses to anyone, but I am surprised now at how little I hate it, considering how I felt after the first three episodes!


  1. Congratulations! Maybe I'll push on with it, bit at a time, and not give up after all. 6 to go...

    1. Definitely a book to be taken one or two sections at a time! I'd say there were about three or four episodes I really hated, compared to five or six I really quite liked (though still needed wikipedia to explain). I found if I looked up what was happening before I read an episode it was more enjoyable!

  2. I'm relieved to hear that someone else didn't really enjoy On the Road. What was it about the final episode in Ulysses that won you over?

    1. It was just pefect for what it was. And to my surprise it was actually easier to read than some other sections (which probably says more about those sections!). Knowing that is was the stream of consciousness of Molly - a character who doesn't appear much in the rest of the book - helped. It was so spot on in the way it rambled and went off on a tangent and connected ideas together and jumped from subject to subject.

      Couldn't stand On The Road. Some other famous author (who escapes me right now) said of it, "That's not writing, that's typing". Hear hear! Also didn't like The Great Gatsby much and apparently they are considered to be similar in style so there must be something about that style...

    2. And two books at the other end of the scale for you?

    3. I'd already read 1984 before this list came out, but I loved that. Out of the books I've read because of the BBC Top 100, I'd have to say that The Stand (Stephen King) and A Tale of Two Cities probably stand out, but I'm quite generous in my marking! I've given 11/94 top marks (10/10) so far!

  3. Apologies if I gave away the ending in my earlier comment, although I don't think Ulysses, or Modernist fiction in general, can be spoiled, not in the same way that something like The Sixth Sense can. For me the experience of reading Ulysses was like putting together a jigsaw which was not clear until the final piece fell into place, and then it suddenly all makes sense. Well, okay, it doesn't ALL makes sense, but it becomes a lot clearer.

    Any plans to read Finnegans Wake now? I've been aiming to for a while, but haven't yet ventured past page 50. At least with that one you wouldn't have to worry about the end being spoiled, since it doesn't have one.

    1. You've spoiled the non-ending then! No doubt someone will write one soon.

    2. Ha! I didn't really mind :) Like you said, modernist fiction doesn't really end - just stop!

      I have no intention of reading anything obscure for a good long time. Though I still have some long/hard books on the BBC Top 100. The six I've got left are:

      Crime and Punishment
      War and Peace
      The Godfather
      The Pillars of the Earth
      The Grapes of Wrath

      Wish me luck!

  4. Sounds like quite an achievement, seeing as you struggled to understand all of it. It usually does pay off, though, if you press on and read books that challenge you.

    Nari X


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