Monday, 26 September 2011

Marvellous Monday Book Group 19th Sep: The Prestige

Although this has been published under
the SF Masterworks banner, Chrisopher
Priest's book is rather lacking in sci fi
details. In fact, as MM Book grouper
Chris pointed out, there is really just
one sentence that you can stamp the 'sci fi'
label on.

As a tale of warring magicians - one naturally gifted (Borden), one financially in a position to buy elaborate equipment (Angiers), it is pretty engrossing. But - the
discussions around the table (some heated) suggested that we were all fascinated by the premise but disappointed in the execution.

Several members of the group found the descriptions of the stage performances tedious and felt that this was one area where the film adaptation probably did the book a favour. Most people also found that the 'modern day' wrapper surrounding the book (allowing the Victorian story to be told via discovered notebooks) was superfluous and detracted from the whole. The hapless journalist descended from Borden was two dimensional and there were details mentioned in the opening paragraphs that seemed significant but which were never referred to again.

The juxtaposition of present day and historic characters did open up a very interesting debate about how as readers we suspend belief. The point was made that a disappearing man seemed less outrageous in a Victorian setting, where vast acres of scientific discovery were yet to be pinned down, but was unconvincing in the 1970's - where scepticism would have been king. The people that enjoyed the book most were quite happy to suspend belief in both time zones.

Overall, the majority view was that the book was mainly hampered by cumbersome prose and under-developed characters. There were pockets of enjoyment though and it's worth noting that many of the group didn't see this book as sci fi in the slightest - but would have been put off reading it had they known beforehand! It's always exciting to dip a toe into the water of a new genre - just a shame that on this occasion the quality writing quality was felt to be lacking.

Next up: "Spooks" Mr B's style. A Hallowe'en discussion of Michelle Paver's chilling ghost story 'Dark Matter' at 6:45pm on Monday 31st October. And, if we have any unsolved burning questions about the book, we have the opportunity to quiz Michelle when she comes to Mr B's in November!

Monday, 12 September 2011

What's the technical term for half a Booker Shortlist?

A small diversion. I have now read three of the six Booker Shortlisted titles and I believe that even on this sample, the judges have made a rod for their own backs. All utterly different, all utterly brilliant in their own way. It's like comparing apples with Azerbaijan. How on earth are they going to decide? Here's my twopenn'orth to muddy the waters a bit more...

1) The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

Classy, effortless prose that is at once intelligent, wry, honest and crafted. The reader is placed in the hands of an unreliable narrator, one late middle-aged Tony Webster. But then Tony goes and tells us outright that he is an unreliable narrator precisely because he can't trust his own memories. And yet the reader can still be hoodwinked and surprised, such is his rationale and charisma. Tony tries to reconstruct the his childhood friendships with a group of boys who at 18 eventually go their own separate ways into University. The brightest and most inscrutable, Adrian, ends up at Cambridge. His brilliance is cut short, however, when he takes his own life. And it is this unexplained suicide that bubbles back to the surface of Tony's present. In witnessing his attempt to piece together evidence from his own life, we are invited to examine our own memories and whether history can ever be pinned down accurately. Julian Barnes is a master at creating realistic, complex human relationships and this novel is no exception. There are ideas and ways of thinking in here that stay with you for a long time.

2) Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I don't usually get on that well with books written entirely in dialect form (e.g. Trainspotting, Finnegan's Wake) but Sid's language is as lyrical, evocative and entertaining as a jazz solo. You very quickly get caught up in the rhythm and before long, you is thinking like a real Jack. The story is split between the past of pre-war Berlin and Paris, and a 'post-Berlin Wall' present. The sections describing how Jazz was perceived in Europe in the build-up to the second world war is fascinating. The history of the young, German, half-black trumpet genius Hieronymous Falk is a real eye-opener and the comaraderie of the band that both he and Sid perform with is by turns touching, treacherous, witty and wise. The edginess of the buildup to war adds weight to the consequences of each character's actions. I think what struck me most about this book was the pace. It is so perfectly balanced, each story strand works to build tension, move the plot along and reveal information. Without wishing to labour the musical analogy too much, it's all very harmonious. And just like Jazz -happy to be unpredictable and break a few rules.

3) The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt

A bombastic, hugely entertaining and darkly comic road trip through Californian gold rush country in the company of the deadly Sisters Brothers. Eli Sisters tells it like it is, pulls no punches and occasionally offers his own remorseful take on life philosophy. The brothers encounter a raft of tragi-comic and occasionally reprehensible characters as they track down a lone prospector by the name of Herman Kermit Warm. Even Eli's hapless horse Tub has bucket loads of character thrust upon him. De Witt plays fast and loose with Western conventions and yet this is so much more than a pastiche. The characters are fantastic, the dialogue spot on, the situations exciting. I read it in one day, because I couldn't put it down. It's just that sort of crazy, inventive tale. Also, I have to give a quick thumbs up for the bold look of the trade paperback: the kooky design features genuinely enhanced my reading experience.

So, there you have it: clever, multi-layered or enthralling...I think I'll leave it to the judges but I have really enjoyed the diversity of these three and whilst I've only half the field to comment on, either one would be a worthy winner.


Monday, 5 September 2011

Ulysses Support Group: Oxen of the Sun

Thank goodness we had the foresight to organise some sustenance for this meeting (thanks to James at The Salamander) - this was one of the longest and widest ranging discussions thus far. Not surprising really, given that even Joyce himself describes this section as the most difficult episode (although characteristically, he leaves it ambiguous as to whether he is talking about the subject matter, the interpretation or the writing process itself).

So, here we have nine sections, taking place at the maternity hospital in Dublin, just as the latest addition to the Purefoy clan comes into the world, two days overdue. Each sub-section simultaneously represents a month in the gestation period, and a historic literary style - beginning with the alliterative Anglo Saxon poetic form. We had an extensive debate as to how successful Joyce was in employing these different historical forms....was he deliberately parodying?; was he in earnest?; did he succeed or fail?

There were a fair few other circles to dance around in. The section is representative of the episode in the Odyssey where Odysseus' men kill sacred bulls and feast in spite of a specific warning not to do so. We saw culled livestock everywhere: how Kerry herds are to be slaughtered to control the outbreak of foot and mouth that is raging (and the practice of dairy calves being culled anyway as part of the milk production process); the way in which the Catholic women have their spirit and health sapped through serial pregnancies; the fact that the 'sacred cow' of childbirth is taken out of the control of women by patriarchs, the possible lampooning of ancient literary styles...

Bloom avoids being drawn into a discussion with the medical students in the common room bar of the hospital (Stephen Dedalus and his cohorts) about the biological rationale for some pregnancies being successful and others failing. Again, we are reminded of Bloom's own tragedy - that of losing his baby son. There is a stark contrast between the theoretical discussion of the students, their slow descent into inebriation, and the physical reality of childbirth taking place metres away. Devoid of emotion, their discussions might be described as intelligent but they are a long way from being truly informed in the way that Bloom is.

Everyone around the table agreed that this was the most difficult section to read. Sentences had to be read and reread so that their meaning could be unpicked. The allusions to restoration comedies, the diaries of Pepys, the poetry of Milton et al came thick and fast and were overwhelming if you weren't an English Literature graduate of the time (apparently, there is a single tome that Joyce uses as a template for his dizzying array of references).

This led to another lengthy discussion about how the creation of new life was perhaps the most inscrutable of questions for any author to tackle and that perhaps Joyce was being intentionally difficult to reflect his subject matter. There was also much talk as to whether evolutionary theory was being applied to language (Joyce's epic being the evolutionary product of all that had gone before) or whether it was an argument for recycling being the engine of creation (Joyce borrows, but then makes new). In the text, there is a reference to Paddy Dignam lying in the cemetery at the same time as new life is emerging from the same building blocks of atoms. As if to completely sideline this debate, the section ends with drunken slang. After all the high faluting stylistics that preceded it, the directness and urgency of the language shows itself to be a much better and easily understood mode of communication!

Once you get started on creation, of course, there are no definite conclusions. Suffice to say that we had a pretty good go at encompassing all the major points - including the relative size of the barnacle's reproductive organs (impressive) and different cultural attitudes to the status of women (French politicians featured prominently) once 'men' had debunked the myth of childbirth with science.

The next section is too huge to attempt in one meeting, so we have decided to split 'Circe' into two. We will be meeting on Tuesday the 20th September to discuss up to p492 in the OUP edition - or the line 'Cardinal sin. Monks of the screw.' for those with other editions. Hmmm....more barnacle facts beckon, methinks.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Kate's Reading Challenge 2011: Books 15-19

OK, I admit it; I may have gone a little off course with my reading year, having just read eight fiction titles in a row (oops!). I promise I’ll get back on track soon; in the mean-time here are my latest reads.

No. 15. “The Best of Everything” by Rona Jaffe (Penguin Books, 2011)

With a cast resembling the Sex and the City girls (maybe a little less racy) and a set-up that mirrors that of the recent hit series Mad-Men this is a novel that reads like the TV mash-up of your dreams (or maybe just my dreams).

Originally published in the 1950’s, (when it was thought to be rather revolutionary) Penguin have recently reissued this novel about four young women working in a publishing house in New York. The characters range from ambitious and together (Caroline), to flighty and na├»ve (April) but all of the women share the same dream; to find love in the city. Chapters switch between the sagas of the central characters as they battle to work their way up the career ladder, try to escape the advances of their lecherous male colleagues and drink an obscene amount of whisky.

The characters are well-developed and equally interesting to read about, I naively found the women’s attitude to work in the 1950's (as a stop-gap on the route to marriage) rather shocking! Even Caroline, the most driven of the women is willing to abandon her career dreams in the face of an eligible man. The writing is super-light, but if you’re looking for a girly flavoured holiday read then this is your boy (irony intended)!

No.16. Jubilate by Michael Arditti (Arcadia Books, 2011)

I followed my light and girly read with something altogether more serious and literary. “Jubilate” is the story of the relationship that forms between a BBC producer and a Catholic woman on a pilgrimage in Lourdes.

Gillian is a woman overburdened with responsibility; her husband has suffered a brain haemorrhage and is hugely dependent on Gillian’s care. With some coercion from her mother in law, Gillian joins the annual pilgrimage to pray for a miracle cure for Richard. But her dedication to the cause is disrupted by the attention of Vincent, a sceptic when it comes to Catholicism, who has been assigned the task of making a documentary about the pilgrimage.

The affair unfolds in a series of chapters which shift between Gillian and Vincent’s narration and jump backwards in forwards in time over the week of the pilgrimage. The effect is a beautiful and complex layering structure, which sees some episodes reported from the different perspectives of the couple and others more sparsely described.

I was really impressed by this book, it’s thought-provoking and romantic but it achieves these accolades without losing sight of the serious issues at the heart of the narrative.

No.17. “The Break” by Pietro Grossi (Pushkin Press, 2011)

The B Team (minus Ed) flocked to read the first novel (translated into English) by our favourite Italian author of the moment. Having told myself I would only have time to read half of the novel before Grossi rocked up to talk Reformation at the Mr B’s Book Lovers Unite event, I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting.

The protagonist is Dino, a young man who relishes the order of his quiet life. He spends his days paving the streets with stones and his evenings playing Italian billiards and planning elaborate trips with his wife that they both know they will never take.

Grossi’s style is understated, stripped back prose which I found incredibly effective and at very times moving. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the intuitive nature of stone-laying, a mechanical process which involves a surprising amount of instinct.

I loved, loved, loved this book!

No.18. “All the Stars Electric Bright” by Ian Breckon (Old Street Publishing, 2011)

Atmospheric and tautly written, this novel blends giants of Italian Fascism, Mussolini and F.T. Marinetti (initiator of the Futurist movement), with a cracking selection of fictional success-hungry artists, dancers and other creative types.

The narrative unfolds at a glamorous Futurist themed dinner party, hosted by Marinetti. Amongst the guests are aspiring artists and friends Emilio and Arturo who must compete for a prestigious commission and for the affections of Nina, the woman that they both love.

As cocktails and revolutionary cuisine are guzzled the claustrophobic mood of the party intensifies and the frustrated guests begin to reveal their true dramatic selves. A really exciting novel that simmers with tension, art, politics and pretentious food.

No.19 “The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx (Fourth Estate, 1994)

I can’t believe I have only just got round to reading “The Shipping News”, it is without a doubt the best book that I have read in ages! Annie Proulx’s writing is simply outstanding, her descriptions of people and places are so impressive, funny and vibrant, in particular a comparison of a character’s face to “clawed cottage cheese” sticks in my mind!

Quoyle is an overweight, hopeless journalist who returns to his ancestor’s run down house on an isolated area of coast in Newfoundland, along with his aunt and his daughters Bunny and Sunshine. He quickly secures a job at the local newspaper, where he is responsible for reporting on the shipping news (even though he knows nothing about boats) and car wrecks (which evoke painful personal memories).

If you’re a person who looks for great characters in a novel (and I certainly am) then this is a book that’s sure to impress, each character is so brilliantly and originally drawn. I'm adding Annie Proulx to my favourite authors list now.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Marvellous Monday Book Group: Travels with my Aunt

Lots of willing travelling companions
for Grahame Greene's unconventional
Aunt Augusta - so many turned up for
this one that we had to split the group
in two. So, this post will only be able
to cover half the meeting! For those of
you who were in the upstairs group,
feel free to chip in. I should also mention
that Chris provided some excellent cake,
which meant that despite us not being
prepared for such a large meeting, there
were sufficient nibbles to go round.

(Please, please, please try to remember to drop us an email/phone message in advance of the meeting to let us know you are coming!)

Now, back to the book. It was great fun to read and everyone round the table enjoyed this rather 'late in life' blossoming of Henry Pulling. There was some debate over exactly when the book is set. Aunt Augusta ranges from Edwardian courtesan to 20's flapper girl in people's minds. Henry, has the stuffiness associated with late 1940's/early 1950's English gentlemen - and yet he encounters a hippie-esque teenager out of the early 1970's. How much of this is Greene's design? After all, the reader is floundering as much as Henry is at the beginning of the book, encountering lives so far removed from his own sphere of existence.

There are some aspects of the writing style, however, which unquestionably date it as mid-2oth Century. The group noted that whilst there is a libertarian attitude exhibited by Aunt Augusta to her African 'valet', Wordsworth, he is the only character in a gamut of foreign gentlemen who Greene feels the need to voice in dialect (patois). As a result, the reader makes snap judgements about Wordsworth's intelligence, which he is never prompted to do elsewhere. On the plus side, Wordsworth is a very rounded and interesting character rather than an archetype. He has the wit to use stereotypes (himself as a coloured man and Henry as a dull, establishment figure) for his own ends - as does Aunt Augusta.

Henry's naivety underpins much of the humour of the book. How much of this is real, though? We are left wondering whether he has simply inherited his Aunt's gift for fantastical storytelling. The book is narrated retrospectively. Everything we are told has the sheen of careful reflection and detail rather than bewildering immediacy. This means that despite Henry facing some awkward circumstances, there is a feeling of assurance about each episode he recalls. It helps with the humour and light touch of the book and enables Greene to sneak in some pretty taboo areas of Aunt Augusta's life philosophy. It also helped when the suspension of credulity is required as the novel is full of coincidences (the most jarring being the chance encounter with the hippie Tooley's father).

That many of the characters are not fully fleshed out, or that their motives remain hidden, or that their actions are unbelievable, didn't cause too many problems. Aunt Augusta is a very entertaining character to spend time with: by turns outrageous, unconventional, immoral, flawed and dogmatic. As the focus of the novel, Henry's slow realisation that he has lived the wrong sort of life (staid bank manager, predictable days) is a treat and gives succour to all of us that it is never too late!

Next up is 'The Prestige' by Christopher Priest, which we will be discussing on Monday 19th September. (Lucinda)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Ulysses Support Group: Nausicaa

Any sympathetic feelings for Bloom in the last section are tested here. Dirty old man or romantic fantasist? As a voyeur, watching three young Irish girls by the sea at dusk, Joyce spares us no details as to the desire felt by Bloom. Homer didn't quite have Odysseus messing his trousers, but there are strong parallels in this section again between his encounter with the beautiful women washing clothes in the river and the girls that Bloom encounters. Whilst some in the group felt that the syruppy language and excruciating small talk of the girls was in some ways more tedious to read than Stephen Dedalus' intellectual ramblings, others found that the section was a novelty: Joyce presents a scene with an omniscient narrator, description, dialogue, internalisation.

There was a lot of discussion around whether Gerty's thoughts are really hers, or whether the whole chapter is Bloom's creation and he is imposing his fantasy upon her. Claire (who is fast becoming our close reading specialist) pointed out that Bloom knows who Gerty is and a little bit of biographical detail about her from the conversation in Barney Kiernan's pub: 'Gerty Mac Dowell loves the boy that has the bicycle' which would enable him to do this. Plus, the voice of Gerty perhaps paints Bloom in too enigmatic and romantic a light - referring to him as 'handsome'.

There was also a lot of discussion around the significance of the idolatry of women going on outside, at the same time as a church mass is taking place, worshipping Mary and the cult of the virgin. There is also the significance of Bloom rejecting Gerty once she leaves and he realises that she is lame. Joyce's women at the moment exist and are weighed and measured in the minds of men thus far....roll on Molly Bloom!

We all enjoyed the liberal opportunities for Joyce to ham up the double entendres: we even have fireworks at one point. As the 'cuckoo' call echoes Bloom's situation as cuckold though, the scene ends with feelings of pity.

4 weeks to the next meeting which will be at 6:45 on Tuesday 30th August at the very hospitable Salamander pub. Plenty of time to get to grips with 'Oxen of the Sun' (p366-p407 in the Vintage edition) and a return to centre stage of Stephen Dedalus.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Ulysses Support Group: Cyclops

So, the unease of Bloom as an outsider in Dublin is suddenly unleashed as he confronts the bigotry (one eyed-ness) of the patrons of Barney Kiernan's bar. Anti-semitism is overtly articulated. Bloom finds himself no longer amongst intellectual 'betters' or his own peers. Now, he appears the most informed man in the room - which has it's advantages, since he can answer back and hold his own. Ultimately though, in the form of a malevolent dog, Bloom isn't equipped to deal with the threat of violence and ends up fleeing.

Joyce's Cyclops is a no-man (or perhaps an every man) - the 'citizen' in the bar (the drunk in the corner) remains unnamed. The narrator for this passage is only ever 'I' - and there are lots of plays on the word 'eye' or the act of seeing. Most of the group found the change in tone quite chilling. There was some sympathy for Bloom, who is asked outright 'what is your nation?' - and his reply of 'Ireland' is met with disdain. The bigotry espoused, however, isn't restricted to Jews. All 'foreigners' fall short of Ireland's standards. The French, English and Canadians are all quickly dismissed.

Our discussions centred around how Joyce manages to undermine the arguments of the bigots through their inept language and their easy recourse to stereotype. Uneasily, we (alongside Bloom) can feel superior to these men. In amongst the simmering hatred, howerver, there is plenty of opportunity for comedy and wordplay. The narrator tells how on the way to the bar, his eye is nearly poked out by the brush handle of a chimney sweep. Again, the very direct links that this passage evokes with the 'Cyclops' section of the Odyssey is blatant and as a result, we all felt huge satisfaction at making the associations.

All in all a tricky and unsettling passage - but again, the familiarity of setting and realism of the dialogue meant that it was not difficult to read. The dramatic ending (in a book which thus far has been devoid of action) has spurred us on to read the next section by Tuesday 2nd August from 6:45 at The Salamander. I think we're in for another epic change of tone: 'Nausicaa', according to Joyce, is written in a 'namby-pamby jammy marmaladey, drawersy style' (!)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ulysses Support Group: Sirens

Big pats on the back all round as we realise we have a third of the book under our belts. This section produced some polarised opinions. Some felt it was unneccessarily inscrutable and that Joyce could have written something just as evocative but more accessible; others found that the onomatopeic style led to some innovative and telling descriptions. Claire wins the 'close reading award' for pointing out that Bloom's companion in the bar is the self same awkward Uncle that Stephen Dedalus refers to in the first section.

Bloom as 'outsider' is becoming more and more clear: from the jibes of the barmaids, to his stealthy progress to the back room of the bar (avoiding Blazes Boylan and his notorious squeaky tan shoes) and his pointed preference for offal over the pub staple steak and kidney pie. Stephen Dedalus' father by contrast is seen as popular - in spite of his lofty 'bard' son.

Casting the barmaids as Sirens offers Joyce great scope for some jovial preening and flirting - but ultimately these women are selling liquor and potentially leading men from sobriety and towards oblivion (and it was pointed out that again, Joycian women appear to be conniving and villainous whilst the men are hapless but blameless). The deaf barman Pat, appears immune from the fawning of the barmaids - perhaps because he understands it is all for show. In a clever reversal of the musical theme, it is the men that play and sing (and we all came away from the section feeling a need to seek out the songs mentioned). Every character has their own rhythm and set of sounds which are often repeated - mimicing the Greek aural tradition of qualifying characters with descriptive adjectives e.g. the resourceful Telemachus. The effect of repeated desciptors or syllables throughout the passage divided opinion and was either intensely annoying or very innovative!

Pubs, music, irreverant chatter and gossip - all very Dublin and perhaps why some of the group found this section so entertaining.

Also, it is perhaps the clearest parallel between the text and the Odyssey that we have come across so far and because the Sirens are so well known, there was less time spent poring over the notes (no musical pun intended) and more time enjoying the language and the scene itself.

The next section - Cyclops - is a meaty 50 pages and so we shall reconvene at the Salamander (around 6:45pm) on the 19th July.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Marvellous Monday Book Group: 27th June 2011

In many ways, Italo Calvino's
Castle of Crossed Destinies is
a perfect book group read. The
premise is intriguing: in a nod
to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales,
travellers meet up at a castle
but find they have lost the
power of speech. Only a pack
of Tarot cards can help them communicate their stories. As the cards are laid upon the table, a matrix of stories is created. The cards take on different meanings depending on the start and end points used in the grid. Stories are read upwards, downwards and across. The book contains helpful illustrations of the two sets of Medieval Tarot cards that Calvino used to devise the stories. So far, so intriguing, but I'll come out up front and say: "Not everyone enjoyed it". There was a strong sense that Calvino's experiment was for his own rather than the reader's benefit and the narrator is functional in the way in which he interprets the cards laid down by his fellow travellers. Often the reader feels passive rather than engrossed. The book feels like a technical exercise.

The Castle of Crossed Destinies is divided into two distinct sections. In the first, Calvino sticks rigidly to the idea that each additional tale must fit perfectly into the tableau of cards on the table. As a result, some of the stories feel 'forced' and some of the group found that the interpretations Calvino places upon the cards are too convoluted. There were inexplicable historical anomalies: computers and skyscrapers mingled with knights and sorcerors. On the other hand, a couple of people found that when Calvino made imaginative use of the actual images, the results were fascinating: crossed swords become a forest of intertwined brances for example - or cups take on the appearance of a cemetery viewed from above.

Pervading it all was the sense that we were reading something formulaic....but if some of the stories felt familiar, it is because Calvino (particularly in the second half of the book) has mined folk tales, myths, classics and great literature - and this is perhaps where the 'enjoyment' factor of the book plays second fiddle to the sorts of ideas Calvino's experiment throws up: 'What makes a good story?'; 'Are there any new stories or simply a re-ordering of standard events?'; 'Why does the reader become engaged in some and not others?'

And then that leads to some even bigger questions: how important is language in conveying meaning? Is Calvino's obsession with creating a working tableau of stories bording on pyschotic? Are his travellers sane or locked in some form of madness? Do we disregard each others stories all the time and is it significant that the second half of the book is set in a tavern, where strangers convene, swap stories, dissipate and promptly forget much of the conversation?

If Calvino had made his narrator a character with which the reader could identify, and had written his stories with careful consideration of style, pace and meaning then we would not have had the same discussion about the nuts and bolts of communication and storytelling. What a conundrum - as I said, a great book group read.

Next up is Grahame Greene's Travels With My Aunt on Monday 8th August at 6:45pm. Expect characters fully in control of their powers of speech!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Ulysses Support Group Meeting:The Wandering Rocks

Everyone agrees that given the diverse nature of each of the separate sections we have read so far, restricting ourselves to reading just one section works best. And this section was chock full of activity. Here is a confluence of characters and events that can be seen as the 'centre' of the novel. Myriad characters, all encroach on each others' stories - sometimes interacting, sometimes in the background. I think everyone agreed that this section is worth re-reading, because there is such a lot going on and so many people to keep track of! Although Joyce is hamstrung by the linearity of text (we can only read one word at a time!) he has a pretty good go at recreating a snapshot of the day from multiple perspectives. Again - in terms of reading this isn't a difficult section, but there seems to be a lot going on beneath the surface. We start with Father Conmee and end with the Earl of Dudley riding through the streets in a carriage. Are these the pillars of Irish society (religion and aristocratic authority) between which all of Dublin life surges? There is more than a whiff of impropriety and sin surrounding the montages in between these opening and closing pieces: voyeurism and debt in particular. We also see Stephen confronted by guilt again, as he comes across his sister buying a French primer. There is no doubt that Stephen sees himself standing apart from the rest of his family - academia removes him from the toil of everyday survival that faces his siblings. It was also noted that thus far, women are generally represented as hard working and resourceful women - often surrounded by slightly feckless men - but often relegated to the background (misogyny?). We also revisited the idea of Bloom as the central character and the impression of him as 'an outsider' is pronounced in this section. Why does Joyce make his Odysseus a Jew? Is this a reflection of Joyce's own 'self imposed' exile status?
During the meeting, Ali managed to track down a film based on Ulysses. At two hours, we're dying to know which elements of the book feature.

We're moving on to the Sirens next, which is up to page 279 in the OUP version. Next meeting will be at The Salamander, from 6:45 on the 28th June. (Plus, we have noted how Radio 4 appear to be jumping onto our bandwagon with all sorts of Joycian fare going on!)