With previous exposure to Joyce limited to the first 9 pages of Ulysses a long, long time ago and the short story not my favourite genre, this collection had mountains to climb. And, although it didn’t make it to the summit, it certainly wasn’t left at base camp.
After said 9 pages of Ulysses obviously inspired a life time’s aversion to the thought of Joyce, I would never have attempted this read had it not been for someone, somewhere showing me that these stories are accessible. Indeed they are and my the boy can write! <Cue tongue-in-cheek icon.>
The prose in these stories is succinct and very, very evocative. Emotions, time, place, dialogue are all drawn in rich detail. From my favourite story Eveline
She had consented to go away, to leave her home. Was that wise? She tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her. Of course, she had to work hard, both in the house and at business. What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow? Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up by advertisement. Miss Gavan would be glad. She had always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening.
“Miss Hill, don’t you see these ladies are waiting?”
“Look lively, Miss Hill, please.”
She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores.
There follows an intricate exploration of Eveline’s reasons to leave home and also the reasons not to. In just 6 pages, Joyce has me investing emotionally in Eveline’s decision and totally surprised by the outcome. (Needless to say I absolutely disagreed with her!)
Other stories, however, are not so successful. I’m a traditional kind of reader – I prefer a beginning, a middle and an end. I don’t like to be left hanging and some of these stories did just that. Just one example: A Little Cloud At 17 pages, it’s much longer than Eveline. It’s protagonist, Little Chandler, so called “because, theough he was but slightly under the average stature, he gave one the idea of being a little man”, meets his friend Gallaher after a period of 8 years. Gallaher has made a success of his life; Little Chandler has made a marriage. Following the meeting Little Chandler returns home. His thoughts tell us everything we need to know. Then the baby starts crying and is unconsolable. His wife returns from shopping, chastises him like a fury and takes the child from his arms ….
Little Chandler felt his cheeks suffused with shame and he stood back out of the lamplight. He listened while the paroxysm of the child’s sobbing grew less and less, and tears of remorse started to his eyes.
Turn the page – new story. What? No, this is unfinished business! I want more …. an effect that occurred more than once. Same thing with Counterparts ( a particularly distressing incident) and A Mother. Frustrating? Or proof than Joyce has more than acheived his aims. Get the readers involved and leave them with the same sense of frustration his Dubliners experience?
There can be no doubt. Joyce’s Dubliners are a dissatisfied and at times an extremely unpleasant bunch. But they’re colourful, as indeed is the city – a city which may not be clean or prosperous but one which they call home.
On finishing the book, I rated it mainly because of the overwhelming sense that many of the stories are incomplete. However, scanning to review brought me to many passages of wonderful prose, and I now feel that I may well return to this collection in the future simply to enjoy English well-written. Final rating: