If you have recently read a novel about a man who travels down Dublin, Ireland in the year 1904 and with a style that uses many seemingly strange, excited, and sometimes made-up words, you may have read James Joyce’s 1922 masterpiece Ulysses.
In the tradition of many great novels, this one is rather controversial. Besides being controversial in terms of liking the book or not, people could not even agree on what it was about. Within eleven years after it came out, it seemed that there were people who demanded that it be banned from the public’s consciousness. The book was deemed too sexually explicit and not worth any literary attention. This, of course, meant that a trial (known as “United States v. One Book Called Ulysses“) had to take place to deem the “explicit” and “corrupt” content of the book worthy of continued publication. In the end, the judge ruled that the book was appropriate for the United States on account that the book was not meant to be used in any sexual way by readers.
In this day and age of Fifty Shades of Grey being sold at the supermarket checkout (a book clearly used for sexual purposes rather than to enlighten the public), it seems strange to think that authors could really get in legal trouble over explicit content. Compared to what is now available, Ulysses is not that shocking—that is, if you can understand what is going on.
In truth, there was very little that I understood. I have only read this novel once and am not sure if I would read it again anytime soon. At first, I was enamored with it. Joyce manages to completely rip apart all ideas about what a book should be. The first two hundred pages or so were a joy ride. Even though I was not exactly understanding what was happening, I still felt propelled forward. However, soon this ride started to slow down. My engine of motivation started dying and I had to supply my own force as a way to keep on reading. I must say that this novel is a workout for every piece of your body. When you are finished, you are going to be sore. But there is a great feeling attached to being so sore. Just like a hard workout in which you extend more of yourself than you thought possible, Ulysses stretches and explodes in the mind. It is something that is very hard to recover from. Indeed, I would not be surprised if you would need some time before reading another book.
The thing about most books is that they tend to do one of two things: focus deeply on one or two characters or brush over a larger cast. It is pretty much impossible to write a decent book if the author just barely goes into the details of a large cast. Due to this, most writers go for the single narrator option. Ulysses abandons both of these methods, though, by focusing deeply on an entire town. This method just leaves you breathless. I am still very inexperienced with English literature, but I do not suppose I will ever come across another novel that will have the same all-encompassing feeling that I felt after reading this book. If you have not read it, I cannot recommend it enough. Please do not worry about “getting” everything. Trust me, you won’t. No one does. Joyce himself asked that all of his readers would “devote his [or her] whole life to reading my works”. Though this might seem demanding, Joyce is giving a gift. Ulysses is a comedy and should be read to be enjoyed. So, please read and please enjoy.
Reader, have you read Ulysses? If you have, what did you think of it? If you have not, have I been able to convince you to find a copy?