To read or not to read “Ulysses”?

imageA couple of years ago, I heard about “Ulysses” in a book I was reading, by this woman, whom I will not name. I was reading her biographies, and since they were not worth the paper they were printed on, I will not speak of them further, except saying that this woman was sex-obsessed and she read the book which was basically forbidden in Britain. I will not say that this perked my interest in the book, but I did wonder what sort of book was “forbidden” in the late 1930s?

Then, shortly after this, I saw a book program on Swedish Television, which brought up the fact that “Ulysses” had finally been re-translated. The program followed the translator, on a tour to Ireland, where he showed how he had been able to translate difficult passages in the book, by looking at what the author had looked at. There was no other way, to describe things with the right Swedish words. What he showed was very pretty and he spoke very highly of the book. It did not really go together with the description of a naughty book, that the above mentioned woman gave!

Then, during a language program, hosted by Stephen Fry, he also went to Ireland, to discuss James Joyce language and his “great novel, Ulysses”. According to Stephen Fry, it is the only thing he would bring to a desolate island if he was shipwrecked, the only thing he could not live without. I must say that I felt confused by this stage. Is it that good? He did add in the program, that it is the book everyone talks about but noone has read. If it is so great, why has so few read it? Because it is naughty? Long? Because this book is LONG!

Out of curiosity, I went to the book shop in town, when the new translation came out, and it’s a brick! I opened the book and read a couple of sentences and thought, what is this? Loose sentences, meaning nothing. Hmmm! Maybe not my book after all. T. said that he had looked as well, at the English edition, and did not understand a thing, so we both agreed that IF I was to read 820 pages, it would have to be in Swedish. But I hesitated after that page I read at the bookshop, which did not make any sense at all.

Then, last week, I was watching “The Antique Road Trip”, a program I really like. And since they do not just shop antiques to sell at auctions, but visit local sites as well, once again I got to see sites from “Ulysses”. The antiques expert, was brought to this tower, featured in the book and got to see what James Joyce had seen. It has almost been two years since I last looked at the book, but once again, I looked at it. It is so expensive and does one really want to buy an expensive book, which one might hate or not be able to finish? The funniest thing was reading the reviews at the book site, I was on. I mean, just listen:

“… I don’t understand anything. Perhaps in ten years?” – Emma Svensson

“A book I have never read and which I am always reading. … I have always had a copy in my bookcase for when I feel like reading it. I doubt one can read it from cover to cover, I’ve never tried.  But I open it wherever, and read till I get tired of it, and put it back in the bookcase. Very entertaining.” – Johanna Hallberg

“I have been reading this book for 25 years. During the first 20, I tried to read it from cover to cover. I started it every summer. Now I have learned how one is supposed to read it. I open it wherever and start reading. I enjoy, I laugh and I am impressed. When I get tired of it, I quit.” – Henrik Fogelberg

I laughed at particularly the last two comments. But I still ask myself, is this a book for me? I am not sure I want to spend the next 25 years on it!


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