Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey
New Island Books
It’s 100 years since James Joyce’s Ulysses was published, by any measure the most significant novel by an Irish writer. An abundance of commemorative commentary has already appeared, and more is sure to come. Daniel Mulhall’s Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey is a welcome contribution to the centenary, especially for readers intimidated by the modernist novel’s reputation for awesome difficulty.
Mulhall’s is far from the first ‘guide’ to Ulysses. However, what perhaps distinguishes his is its approachability. Implicit here is the idea that a user-friendly guide might make the novel itself more hospitable. As Mulhall affirms, the pleasures of Ulysses can and should be enjoyed by as many as possible, not solely specialists.
The guide’s chapters correspond to each ‘episode’ in Joyce’s novel, and mix straightforward explanation (‘what is Joyce trying to say’) with lucid close reading and personal reflection. Mulhall has no interest in an objective, at-a-distance account of the novel. Instead, he wants the reader to get a sense of what so attracted him to Joyce’s masterpiece. He’s evangelical about Joyce, but agreeably so.
If there is fault to be found in Mulhall’s book, it’s his diplomat’s tendency to view Ulysses and Irish literature as a means to an end: that of the ‘national interest’. Of all books, Ulysses resists instrumentalization.
Words: Luke Warde