Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young ManYou've heard of James Joyce, I'm sure. He was that author who wrote stuff. Okay, he's most famous for Ulysses, but A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the one I've read. And a couple of the stories in Dubliners. I'll read the rest at some stage. Anyway, Portrait is a wonderful book, but there's a couple of catches...

Catches? It's James Joyce!

Yes, I am aware of the author's name. I am aware of the fact that he's one of Ireland's most celebrated authors. But I'm also aware, now that I've read this book, that he liked to talk a lot about very particular subjects. As the book is a tale of his life - a Bildungsroman -  it follows his interests in politics, religion and literature. Unfortunately, the politics isn't all that interesting unless you're have a fondness for Irish history, too. And the religion..? Well, I get enough of that in God College. The literature was manageable. I quite enjoyed that, actually. But by God, I didn't want to read all about sin and the apocalypse and all that stuff. It was the sort of book I'd say to people, "Read it if you actually want to read James Joyce", but not otherwise.

So... why did you read it?

I was helping Ferris Bueller study. The book was on for one of our modules in college, and he was doing it for his exam last week. Volunteering to help him prepare, I had to read the book, first! That's why. (And no, he didn't fail the first time around - it's complicated!)

Okay, but was it worth it?

I enjoyed the book, yes. I knew it would be difficult. I didn't think some of it could be painstakingly boring (the religion part... I wasn't in the mood to learn about religion). However, the story was wonderful and delightful and very easy to follow. Once you got used to it. And it's a perfect example of writing a life story for a fictional character - Joyce writes the book so that as Stephen Dedalus gets older, so too does the narrator. The text becomes more and more mature towards the end. That was one of the things I noticed way back in 2009 when we discussed the book during tutorial; Joyce was writing his character into maturity without so much as mentioning his age. I think we're told once how old he is. It's when he's sixteen. That was it. The rest of the time, you just got an idea of his age by how old the writing seemed. Always a bit more mature than the character was capable of during his youth, but definitely young.

Will you read it again?

Probably never, no. However, I do plan on finishing Dubliners. And Ulysses is on the course at a later point, I believe. That won't be fun, I don't think. It's supposed to be very hard to read. But probably also enjoyable. I hope...

So... should people read this?

Like I said, if you want to read James Joyce, read this. It's the closest thing of Joyce's you'll get to his masterpiece. It's a sort of warm-up. But if you're looking for something that's an easy, enjoyable read... move along. Really, this isn't the book for you. Pick one from the reviews page, instead. But not Portrait. It's too heavy reading for a soft read. The language is completely different to what we're used to in this day and age, and the style is so different to what's published these days. Good book, but you have to want to read it.

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