Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Dubliners by James Joyce
Joyce wrote this book, his first, in 1914. It is a collection of short stories about various characters in Dublin around the turn of the century. Some of the characters stories overlap but each piece is a stand alone story. Most of the stories are quite short, 10 to 20 pages on average, covering small instances within the lives of a mixed set of people, young, old, men, women, groups or alone, all of them working class in Dublin.
In viewing these snapshots of their lives we are able to glimpse the wider community and interactions. From a young boys reaction to the family priests death in The Sisters, to an alcoholic about to lose his job and spending his last pennies on ale, to go home and take it all out on his children in Counterparts. There is also a group of men talking before a commitee meeting in Ivy Day in the Commitee Room, to a mother standing up for her musician daughter at a local concert in A Mother. None of the characters are well off, and some have varying fortune in their lives, but interaction, of friends and family, good and bad, features prominently in each chapter. The last story, The Dead, is much longer and feels like a short novella. It covers an entire evenings gathering and the subsequent hours afterward, and mentions a few of the characters from previous stories, bringing it all together. I have only picked out some of the tales, there are 15 in all.
The writing is beautiful throughout and each story has the feeling of joining an everyday incident half way through and leaves before it is ended. You sense that a lot has happened before and after the point where you come in, so each one is like a living thing. Some of the stories recount something that happens, others detail the ordinariness of life.
The cover picture of this edition is very evocative of the age in which these stories are set and was something that I found easy to connect with coming from, and growing up in Toxteth in Liverpool. Even during the 1970's there were parts of my childhood neighbourhood that enabled me to understand the setting and people that Joyce depicts here, as well as the history of my city and its own Irish connections and working class streets. The simple but skillful language used makes this book a joy to read. I loved the economy of the events pitched alongside the richness of the words. The subjects that pass through this book are very real and admirable for being written down.
This set of stories are a real treat for literature fans and those who like classic writing of the early 20th century with the late 1800's as an influential backdrop. Poverty and struggle play side by side with humanity and community. Highly recommended, and I know that I will pick this book up in the future and revisit the stories in it, for pure pleasure.
For a Penguin Reading Guide to Dubliners use the link.
For more information about classic Irish writer James Joyce use the link.