Monday, October 20, 2014

Dubliners by James Joyce

I have decided on a theme for this week of reviews.  I have done this because apparently I like making trouble for myself.  Anyway, all of the books – or the stories in them – have inspired songs.  Enjoy.

Short story collections are usually named after one of the more interesting stories.  They often have names like Love in Infant Monkeys or The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher or Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?.  There is no title story in Dubliners.  It seems to have that title for no more complicated a reason than it’s about people who live in Dublin.  And that is what these stories are about – people.  Reviews of short story collections will typically describe the plot of one or two of the quirkier or exciting tales but I can’t really do that for Dubliners.  Most of the plots can’t be described much further than “a woman decides whether to leave her unfulfilling life for an unknown adventure” or “a boy goes to a street market for a girl he likes.”  Those don’t read like movie posters.  And they aren’t supposed to.  The point of every story in Dubliners is the characters – their thoughts, their emotions, their being.

James Joyce could write people.  He could lay out his characters’ thoughts so well that he more or less invented stream of consciousness.  He didn’t leave many different works:  scattered poems and plays, a short novel, an acknowledged masterpiece, a brilliant but essentially unreadable monolith (think a 600 page “Jabberwocky”) and Dubliners.  The collection of stories is probably the easiest of his works to get into.  It’s short, for one.  For another, it’s easy to pick up at any point.  Most importantly though, it’s honed in.  Each story is honed in on a particular feeling.  The feelings are so specific that you can’t even say “oh, this one is about love" or "that one is about embarrassment.”  These are the finer feelings – the granular ones.  They are so specific as to possibly only be felt once.  These feelings and these stories are superbly written.  Joyce is one of those classic authors who proves his mettle pretty much immediately.  The characters are so personal and full that you care about everything that happens to them, even if the plot is little more than “a song reminds a woman of a boy she loved in her youth.”

If you like Dubliners you can also check out Why Should the Fire Die? by the band Nickel Creek which features a song inspired by the story “Eveline.”

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