June 2024
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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

I can’t say I’m hugely fond of this one. The book starts out decently when Stephen Dedalus is a child, with a narrative style suited to a child. He grows up throughout the novel, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Under normal circumstances, that sounds like something I’d enjoy. Not with this book, though. Stephen internalizes every external event, making it hard to keep track of what’s actually happening and what’s in Stephen’s head. There isn’t much of a plot as Joyce is just tracking Stephen’s growth. Other characters aren’t given much attention. Moreover, in the middle of the book there is a pages-long Catholic sermon which rings over dramatic and false, ripping the reader out of the story. It’s very hard to get into this book since every word requires attention.

The prose, admittedly, is very beautiful, and if I were to read this book slowly and attempt to extract all the nuances of meaning, I may enjoy it more. I’m not that type of reader, though. I don’t really enjoy when sentence structure reflects the narrator and has meaning itself; I vastly prefer the meaning to be in the story.

I read this book for a class entitled “The Modern British and Irish Novel”, and as I understand it is a precursor to many modern works. I am hoping that the other authors can do what Joyce does with a more interesting plot. Overall I think I prefer my literature to be of the 19th century variety, but if you are looking for a work laden with meaning, symbolism, and intricacies, this is probably for you.


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