But Dubliners. It's a collection of short stories, and they are set, as you might imagine, in Dublin. I went to Dublin in late February and just couldn't resist the temptation to be in Dublin, reading Dubliners by one of Ireland's most famed authors, James Joyce. So I succumbed.
And I'm very glad I did. I didn't enjoy all the stories in this book. In fact, I enjoyed very few of them. But the last story, "The Dead," is so brilliantly amazing that it made up for all my lukewarm feelings towards the rest.
Joyce wrote this book in the early 20th century- it was first published in 1914- right in the midst of the great (and ultimately successful) move for Irish independence. This part I remember well from The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which had all sorts of references to Irish independence in it. The stories in this collection are centered firmly on the working class and middle class people that make Dublin work and give it so much of its personality.
As this is James Joyce, symbolism abounds. I missed much of it. For example, the narrators of the stories grow older as you get further into the collection (though this is not true for the version I read as it included "The Dead." That story was not included in the original collection). Each story's main character has an epiphany, too, wherein he or she gains some sort of inner understanding.
But there was also just such a sense of cynicism throughout this story collection. The characters seem so stuck in their lives, and many of them are so unhappy it is palpable. In one story, the character takes out his rage about his life in alcoholism and abuse towards his son. In another, the character realizes, while sitting alone in a small restaurant eating mushy peas for lunch (quite possibly one of the saddest mental pictures I will ever have in my mind), that he has done very little with his 31 years on Earth, and is unlikely to do anything very great with the rest of the time he has. These are people who have accepted their lots in life, but are desperately lonely and constricted by them. In many ways, those feelings seem so relevant to our world today, with so many people unemployed or underemployed. Particularly in Ireland, where the unemployment rate is so high, I could see the frustration and fear that so many of these characters felt is also present in their descendants today.
In some ways, I wish I had read a lighter and more peppy set of stories while in Ireland (I had a copy of William Butler Yeats' Irish folk tales, for example). But by reading Dubliners, I think I got the gritty reality behind the marketing of shamrocks, Guinness, beautiful green rolling hills and dramatic seaside cliffs. I think these are stories that I would love to come back and read when I am less distracted and more able to appreciate the symbolism behind them. And I think "The Dead" is a story that may stay with me for a long time because of just how evocative and beautiful it is.
|Eating brown bread ice cream and yellow man while reading Dubliners in Dublin!|