Blake Morrison reviews new book on James Joyce and 'the art of everyday life'
Blake Morrison has reviewed Declan Kiberd's Ulysses and Us : The Art of Everyday Living in today's Guardian newspaper:
Forty-four years ago, in between A Clockwork Orange and the Beatles' sixth LP, Anthony Burgess published Here Comes Everybody, a critical study of James Joyce intended for readers who had been "scared off by the professors". Joyce, difficult? Not at all, Burgess said: "If ever there was a writer for the people, Joyce was that writer." Burgess polished off his book in eight months; Declan Kiberd has spent three decades working towards his. But his title is similarly inclusive and he, too, wants to demolish "the legend of forbidding difficulty" that has "scared readers off". On the cover is an Eve Arnold photo showing how it should be: a young Marilyn Monroe devouring the final pages of Ulysses
Kiberd tells the story of his father, a Dubliner who loved Ulysses and knew it by heart, but who, having been enticed to attend a Joyce symposium at Trinity College, bolted for the door almost as soon as he'd arrived. Though himself an academic, Kiberd is dismayed that a book which set out to celebrate the common man and woman isn't read by them - or, indeed, by "most students, lecturers and intellectuals", only by paid-up Joyceans. Hemingway professed to admire Joyce, yet all but a few pages of his copy of Ulysses remained uncut. More recently Roddy Doyle set the cat among the pigeons when he complained that the novel had been overpraised and "could have done with a good editor".
Kiberd concedes Doyle's point: the notion of Ulysses's "monumental perfection" is silly, he says. But he rebuts the charge that the novel is inaccessible. Joyce wasn't especially erudite, he argues. Unlike his snooty modernist peers, he was a socialist and democrat who believed in mass literacy - and was happier discussing Dickens with post office workers than he was sitting in bohemian cafes. Reading Ulysses may be a challenge, but so are most jobs. We shouldn't need a sacred priesthood to interpret it for us. [Read more]