Books Which Resist

Ulysses

James Joyce

Fiction, 783 pages

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I bought my first copy of Ulysses when I lived in Charlotte, five years ago. I never finished it. I think I got a hundred pages in and shrugged: What the hell is happening in this book? And then I lost that copy.

Ulysses is one of those classics that everyone gasps at that an English major hasn’t read (Moby Dick was on my TBR list for awhile.) I first heard people clamoring about Ulysses in grad school.

Some novels are inviting, smooth, plaint. This doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. And then there are novels that slow the reader, that resist reading. Examples: Infinite Jest with its 300+ end notes or something like My Struggle from Knausgard which spans a million words. Ulysses also resists, but not like the previous two examples. The structure of the novel shifts between prose, play, TV script, inner and, as Tom McCarthy terms them, “outer monologues.” Some sections of the novel are word salad to me. Joyce does a fantastic job of capturing the disjointing sense of modern life: the feel of commercials, phone texts, to inner fears, to driving, to swirls of our own voices, music, eating, work, layered, layered…The story here doesn’t feel a hundred years old. It feels like driving through downtown Atlanta: sensory overload.

Someone asked me yesterday: Is Ulysses worth it? I suppose they mean the time investment.

Yes.

It’s the kind of novel that takes the book mold and warps it, bends, shatters, and reassembles into a fantastic new thing. I am not entirely sure what that new thing is and I am okay with that.