Dubliners, by James Joyce
Dubliners, a collection of short stories, reads more like a series of photographs: each one is still and neatly framed, depicting someone in a limited, static situation from which escape from their constricted circumstances seems unlikely, if possible at all. Through each close-up we get a glimpse of “dear dirty Dublin” at the turn of the twentieth century; it’s narrow streets, it’s dimly lit pubs, it’s struggling population trying to make better lives for themselves through marriage, through travel, through religion, through drink…
Joyce’s writing matches perfectly the scenes he’s dealing with. He uses very dense, hyper realistic language that is evocative and a bit tense. As with the nature of his characters, there is much restrained emotion held teasingly beyond the reach of the reader. At times, though, I felt a little stuck in the thickness of his writing, and the very slim collection took me quite some time to finish.
I appreciate the impression of Dublin that I got from this book, but ultimately, none of the stories really stuck out to me. They are definitely meant to be read together, so I don’t really mind that, in this instance, since that was part of the point–to construct a bigger picture out of parts. However, my lack of real identification any of the stories made reading the next one kind of a chore and I lost quite a bit of reading momentum towards the end of the collection.
Overall, my first experience with Joyce was a good one. But I can only imagine the ways in which the density of his writing, coupled with the stream of consciousness style of his longer works, might make them extremely difficult and tiring to read. I would still like to try Ulysses at some point, but I must admit to being a little wary of it now and am not in a huge rush to do so.