Almost 100 years after its publication in 1922, the novel Ulisesby James Joyce, is still considered by most critics as one of the most important, influential and discussed works of the 20th century.
It is also, we might add, one of the most difficult to read: a nearly 1,000-page literary experiment filled with covert parallels and hidden meanings that many claim to have read without even trying.
Jorge Luis Borges always doubted those who claimed to have done it: “Many have analyzed it. Now, as for reading it from the beginning to the end, I don’t know if anyone has succeeded.
Even Gabriel García Márquez found it difficult to do so. Every time he was asked what his favorite novels were, he would mention it, but always clarifying that as a young man he had read it “in pieces and trips” and that only after a few years he was finally able to “reread it seriously.”
I wish I could say the same, but I can’t. I have never read it. I tried several times, but I always ended up giving up. I know that at some point I will try to finish it again, as I did with Mrs. Dallowayby Virginia Woolf Heart of Darknessby Joseph Conrad and The mountain magicalby Thomas Mann, which appear, together with Ulisesin several of those lists of books that must be read “before you die”.
I also know that it will not be easy because Ulises It is one of the most complex novels ever written. Its plot, which narrates a day in the life of three people – Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus – and which could have been chronological and of medium length, is in fact a torrent of classic references, intertextualities, rhetorical figures, satires and multiple scatological scenes that make it, at least for me, unintelligible.
Even so, for a long time I felt guilty for not having read it. Luckily not anymore. I think that feeling of guilt began to disappear during a visit that my wife and I made, some years ago, to Dublin, the city where precisely the odyssey of Ulises —not Homer’s but Joyce’s—it really begins.
I remember that when we arrived the first thing we did was buy one of those excursions that are done on foot. Of all the European capitals, Dublin is one of the most intimate I’ve known, very easy to explore on foot. More than a city, it is a bright neighborhood that straddles the River Liffey.
The tour included stops at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College and other places of interest, such as the Old Parliament Building and the General Post Office building, which was where the famous Easter Rising took place in 1916. .
To my surprise, one block further up, before reaching the Church of Santa María, the guide stopped in front of the statue of a man who, leaning on a cane, seemed to be looking at the sky. I recognized him right away: it was James Joyce.
Before beginning what would be a brief but detailed biography, the guide stood in front of the statue and, pointing towards it, said: “I present to you the greatest and most influential writer of the 20th century”.
When he finished his talk, he asked: “Who here has read your novel? Ulises?”. And since no one raised their hand, he said by way of consolation: “Don’t feel bad. His wife couldn’t read it either. And she added: “That’s why she asked him one day: why don’t you write normal books so that ordinary people can read them?”
I don’t know if the anecdote is true or not. But I do know that from that day on I stopped feeling ashamed for not having read the damned novel.
Manuel C. Díaz is a Cuban writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book is “Exiled Cuban Writers: Sixty Literary Reviews”, published by Ediciones Universal.
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James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, a true odyssey | Opinion
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