diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Bloomsday 100

If you want to write a successful book these days, one of the bandwagons you might want to jump on is the 'book of the year'. Pick a year, write about it. There's a book called 1979 (in which Rhona Cameron relates life growing up in a small Scottish fishing village). There's a book called 1968 (in which the world comes to terms with sex, drugs and social upheaval). There's a book called London 1945 (in which the capital struggles into peacetime austerity). Then there are books called 1812, 1759, 1603, 1421 and 1215. Not forgetting 1984 and 2001 of course. If you ever plan on becoming a top-selling author it sounds like you'd better pick your year now and start writing before the whole millennium gets snapped up.

However, one of the greatest works of modern fiction wasn't a 'book of the year' but a 'book of the day'. James Joyce's famous novel Ulysses was played out on the streets of Dublin exactly 100 years ago today on 16 June 1904. The story, such as it is, follows two upstanding citizens as they wander the streets of the city doing nothing much. Nevertheless an awful lot of nothing much happens. Not that you care, because this is one of the most impenetrable books ever written, combining erudite vocabulary with Greek myth and a frightening lack of punctuation. Admit it, it's one of those worthy books you have no plans ever to read. Never mind, now you can hold your own in scholarly conversation by using this handy bluffer's guide to one of the world's toughest novels.

1) Joyce's main characters in Ulysses are teacher Stephen Dedalus and salesman Leopold Bloom. Their paths cross infrequently during the novel, and they end up urinating together in Bloom's back garden.
2) The plot, such as it is, mirrors Homer's epic Odyssey. Which you've never read either.
3) You can read a brief summary of the plot of Ulysses here. However, knowing my readership, you'll prefer the cartoon version with stick men. You can also try reading the whole unabridged book here, but I bet you don't make it even a quarter of the way to the end of the first chapter.
4) Joyce set his book on 16 June 1904 because that was the day he went on his first date with Nora Barnacle, the hotel chambermaid who later became his wife.
5) The people of Dublin have celebrated Bloomsday every year since 16 June 1954. Any excuse for a drink. There are especially big celebrations this year. Further details about 16 June 2004 in a special one-day-only Bloomsday blog.
6) In Chapter 4 Bloom buys fresh offal for breakfast, dining on "grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine." Unfortunately this is the section of the story that tends to be recreated every Bloomsday. This and the drinking.
7) Chapter 10 is the only chapter not based on the Odyssey, containing 19 stories of Dubliners out walking after lunch. Joyce once said "I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book."
8) The final chapter is a 63-page punctuation-free monologue delivered by Bloom's wife Molly. It contains a few rude bits which helped to get the book censored in 1922 for "unmitigated filth and obscenity".
9) The book ends on page 933 with a famous 'Yes'. Like this... "and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."
10) The novel Ulysses has nothing at all to do with Ulysses 31, a shallow Japanese cartoon series from your childhood featuring a blue alien girl called Yumi and a red robot called No-No. No.

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