Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake

by James Joyce

628 pages / Penguin edition

rating 9.5  (it’s an incredible achievement but maybe not one of my all-time favorite books)

What a heck of a ride!   I read this a bit at a time for 7 months with a 10 week break.  I read about 15 pages a day,  usually,  but it would range from 1 to 30 probably – and scattered throughout the day like a little break.  It became like a meditation.

My opinion?  I think the work is an incredible achievement, very experimental,  but just because it’s one of the hardest books in the English language doesn’t mean it’s one of the best if comprehension counts.  I don’t disagree with putting it on the top 100 lists but maybe at about 25.  It might be in my personal top 10 or 15 for the year.

The thing is that the language,  to ME,  sounds like a really thick Irish brogue – maybe drunk a good deal of the time –  with a lot of word-play and spelled phonetically so it’s almost impossibly hard to read in the denser parts – the lighter parts are borderline sensible.   The style was stream-of-SUBconsciousness – what you think/see  when you’re dreaming – just flowing around with no real landing place.  Also like when you’re sleeping the narrative gets clearer in some places than others – like light sleep and then back into deep sleep.    The story was not there at all  at first but as time and pages went on there were glimmers of what was going on.  Then it got clearer and for more parts and for longer phrases and then whole sentences were clear.   The general subject-matter would be the same for a couple pages  – maybe at a party with various people –  and then would change suddenly to when the narrator was a child.  There’s a bit of everything in it – love, sex, some incest – I think –   marriage, families, fathers, brothers, church, Irish history, drinking parties, funerals, death, waking up, sleeping, waking up again, dying.  And it just keeps going!
Here’s a snip from page 409 which I underlined – you can kind of get the idea of how it goes making sense and then not – but keeping a tone – a rhythm – an idea and then losing it:

Goodbye now, Shaun replied, with a voice pure as a church-mode, in 
echo rightdainty, with a good catlick tug at his coco-moss candylock, 
a foretaste in time of his cabbageous brain's curlyflower. Athiacaro! 
Comb his tar odd gee sing your mower.  O meeow? Greet thee Good? How 
are them columbuses! Lard have mustard on them! Fatiguing, very 
fatiguing. Hobos horn-knees and the corveeture of my spine. Poumeerme! 
My heaviest crux and dairy lot it is, with a bed as hard as the 
thinkamuddles of the Greeks and a board as bare as a Roman altar.

2 Responses to Finnegans Wake

  1. dogearedcopy says:

    LOL, I lover the part where you wrote, “There’s a bit of everything in it – love, sex, some incest – I think – marriage, …”

    I thought I had read this about 25 years ago; but now I think I must be confusing it, perhaps, with A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. What I do know was that after reading Joyce, I was severely depressed for weeks! I’ve avoided him ever since because of that (and not because of the obtuseness of the language); but it sounds like I’d do just as well to continue avoiding him. I don’t have much patience for this kind of massive decoding these days :-/


  2. I honestly don’t think Joyce is for everyone – no book can be that. I salute the achievement of FInnegans Wake but question the value if it can’t really be understood by anyone but him.


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