After I left college and spent a year at a table in a flat in Acton reading Ulysses. It’s a difficult book, riddled with pastiche that is difficult to penetrate. But it is a novel of novels and if anything, it shows what can be done with a story. And it’s a day in the life – June 16th, I forget which year. The hero wanders around Dublin, looking for his dad. I read it, as well as all the books I could find that would help me understand it, decode it, unravel it. Friends went off to South America and Japan, I stayed in Acton, above the glaziers, reading Ulysses. I finished it, too. If you have a year to spare, I suggest you have a go at it.
But this blog isn’t about Ulysses, its about Joyce’s other massive work, Finnegans Wake. (n.b. – no apostrophe).
If I ever take a gap decade, possibly in my sixties, I shall endeavour to read Finnegans Wake. I have had several goes, but never reached the end. Not that there is an end. I have a copy in which I’ve written the place where I have attempted it: London, Wexford, Newport, Mid Wales, each about three years apart.
The first 200 pages are thumbed and littered with marginalia, then, like stars fading at dawn, they disappear and the pages look younger, healthier, unadulterated.
Finnegans Wake is written in Joyce’s own language, a sticklebrick, portmanteau goobledegook. (His notes for the book he called Scribbledehobble).
“Or, if he was always striking up funny funereels… with tambarins and cantoridettes soturning around his eggshill rockcoach their dance McCaper in retrophoebia… to the ra, the ra, the ra, the ra, langsome heels and langsome toesis, attended to by a mutter and doffer duffmatt baxingmotch and… pszozlers pszinging… Ho, Time Timeagen, Wake! ”
It’s a funny book, bristling with puns and madness. Read aloud it makes more sense. It’s also full of codes, repetition, wheels within wheels and the rhythms and chants of music.
If Ulysses is a day in the life, Finnegans Wake is a night in the life, or a nightmare. The central character HCE, is seen everywhere “Here Comes Everyone” “Haveth Childers Everywhere” and so on.
There is no beginning and no end, the book begins in mid sentence and ends so.
It is infinite.
If you have an infinity to spare, I suggest you have a go at it.