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What did I just read?

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This book written by an extremely well read author tries to demonstrate how all of history is cyclic. Joyce drew upon an encyclopedic range of literary works. His strange polyglot idiom of puns and portmanteau words is intended to convey not only the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious but also the interweaving of Irish language and mythology with the languages and mythologies of many other cultures. 

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Everyone tries to decipher the meaning of this book, and its underlying plots. Seems to me, after only being able to stand a few chapters, that Joyce just plain lost it towards the end. Perhaps this weird collection of nonsense is really "outsiders art" in a literary sense. Why it is considered a classic is completely foreign to me. Where it anyone but Joyce, it would NEVER have seen publication. Perhaps that, also, was his point...I'm James Joyce, and any of my rubbish will find publication...even if I just write gibberish. I would be willing to bed Stephen King could make a bestseller doing just that... 

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Not for the "perhaps I shall read it". Perhaps for the deluded-hapless. Word gluttons-as am I.

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Well, I did it – I read each of the 628 pages of this book. And I am stumped. As a novel, this clearly rates a zero. However, as a “compilation of puns, riddles, word games, linguistic curiosities, and bits of cultural trivia” it is overwhelming. You could take any page and spend weeks deciphering the text for its hidden, double and triple meanings. I starting reading the book using Tilldall’s Reader’s Guide, assuming that the book was to be read “word by word making sense of everything in linear order,” just like any other novel. But that is wrong! The correct way to read FW is to let the words flow and let your mind play with the words, both visually and acoustically. Expect 95% to flow right on through, but that 5% will provide a stimulating playground of word play, sound play, literary and historical references, and much ado about the Gospels and Catholicism. The craftsmanship is so creative that each morsel causes a pause in your reading for a chance to replay the phrase or sentence to see how many other meanings could be intended. Of course you will need to have that foundation from classic literature, folklore, myths and legends, historical figures and events, proverbs, the Bible, and Catholic rites and prayers. So do not use this as your introduction to the classics. But after you’ve made your way through a recommended-reading list (I used the Top 100), FW becomes at least approachable, yet never comprehensible.
The Reader’s Guide does a fair job of providing a structure to the reading, but when it comes down to it, Mr Tilldale is groping for meaning as much as you the reader. Afterwards, I found the Introduction in the book itself to provide better instructions on the reading of the book. Actually, the ending of the book, as ALP mourns over her dead husband HCE, is very moving and touching, though I couldn’t say why. But the words and phrases are such that you know she is pouring her heart out over the coffin.
As a simple example of the many, many different ways that any single passage can be interpreted, on page 621 is the phrase “All men has done something. Be the time they’ve come to the weight of all fletch.” Mr Tilldale thinks this links to “you must buy me a fine new girdle” 14 lines earlier (weight of additional flesh as you grow older). But I consider this to stand on its own , with reference to The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler. Mr Tilldale does say Joyce uses WOAF in his description of Chapter VII, but I think it applies here as well.
So use FW as an instrument to explore the wonders of the written and spoken word, and you will enjoy the book immeasurably.
 

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