Ulysses | [James Joyce]I’ve grown very fond of Jim Norton and Marcella Riordan’s  Naxos recording of James Joyce’s Ulysses.  No one is more surprised than I am.  I always expect a great classic of literature to be enunciated as distinctly and dully as any “Paradise Lost” or “Farie Queen”.  Sorry, but I live too far away in time to hear back that far.

I’m wrong.  Through Audible.com, I was given the opportunity to download, for free, as lively a radio show of Ulysses as I could ever expect to hear.  Imagine my good fortune.  I have had Pat Delaney’s Re-Joyce! to baby-step me through Stephen’s first three chapters.  I now can almost carry the emotional and intellectual weight of these passages.  Through the delight of these audio chapters, I can now fairly glide from chapter four to Scilla and Charybdis, and Wandering Rocks.

For anybody in the know, that’s still only halfway through the book.  It will still be a battle from there through Cattle of the Sun and Circe.  Life does calm down after that, and I enjoy the humor in the last three chapters (the Nostos).

I still have trouble with Sirens and Cyclops.  I have a better grasp of what Joyce is doing musically, but I don’t think I’ll be falling asleep to these chapters soon.  In Cattle of the Sun, I’ve become less intimidated by that tour-de-force of literary styles than in its commentary on the scene of ribald younger men and one respectful older men in the presence of women suffering the pain of childbirth.  No matter how clever Mulligan and Lynch wish to be, the narrative diminishes them.

Now I know why the chapter ends in incomprehensible jargon and patois.  We have descended, by the character’s debauchery, into the dreams and nightmares of the following Circe “play”.  As brilliantly as Norton handles the very many voices, I wish there were even more atmosphere and voices for a chapters that is almost four hours read aloud.

I never considered Ulysses as being as accessible as any radio broadcast that we keep in the background, and allow to grab our attention when we recognize anything interesting.  The thought of buying an audio of something that huge sounds too uninteresting.  But check out this paragraph from some anonymous reviewer on Amazon.com:

Ulysses is about language, but that makes it sound like it’s some godawful lumbering doorstop written by an English professor. (John Barth, come on down!) It doesn’t feel abstract at all; it’s full of sights (the band of old sweat inside Bloom’s hat), smells (restaurants, horse urine, flowers) and especially sounds (cats, printing presses, trams). I can’t think of any other book which transports you so completely to a different place and time. (It might’ve helped that I grew up in Dublin and knew most of the places that Joyce is writing about.) Borges described Joyce’s prose style, at least in the earlier half of the book, as “strong and delicate” and that’s a good description.

I’m happy to keep my Audible subscription for a few months, just in gratitude for this otherwise expensive spoken interpretation.  Thank you, Jim Norton and Marcella Riodan, for being anything other than dry.  Thank you for loving your characters, the narration, and Joyce.  Thank you also, Mr. Norton, for your pitch perfect interpretation of Joyce’s The Dead on Spotify.  I hope to hear your voice one day as I quietly read Joyce.


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