Saturday, 27 April 2019

Dubliners by James Joyce – Book Review

Said to be one of the classics in English, the Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories from the Irish author James Joyce. True to its name, all the stories take place in Dublin and covers themes such as Irish nationalism, the Catholic – Protestant divide and certain Irish stereotypes such as indecisiveness. What needs to be kept in mind is that the book was published in 1914 (before the Easter Rising of 1916) and the stereotypes persisting then may no longer apply to Ireland today.

The story covers various characters, people in their youth, clerks, rich men, parents, etc. but comes around to conclude that all of them have similar characteristics. The themes that the author repeatedly touches upon is how their indecisiveness affects their lives, their high handed approach leading them to make rash decisions before being brought to the reality, the impact of religion in their lives, etc. The author also makes good use of the city of Dublin, describing the various localities – true to the publisher’s description – ‘in case Dublin vanishes without a trace, it could be rebuilt in entirety by reading Dubliners from James Joyce’.

The stories I had particularly enjoyed include After the Race and Grace. The former tried to symbolise Ireland through four friends from four different countries and each character alluded to their respective countries. Grace was a story on a group of friends trying to get their drunkard companion to embrace Catholicism – it was a humorous take on the idea of god and Catholicism and no wonder Joyce faced backlash in Ireland then as Irish nationalism was seen as being synonymous with Catholicism.

Joyce uses a lot of terms specific to Ireland throughout the book, which might be difficult to understand to those who are not accustomed to it (much as there is a glossary, it is annoying to read a book by constantly referring to the glossary). Many of the stories, in hindsight seem good after reading the notes for interpretation from the publisher as the background to the story is explained in detail. I consider myself as someone well-versed in post Industrial Revolution history, including the history surrounding the independence of Ireland and if I had some difficulty in getting to appreciate some of the stories, I would say that for readers who are hardly aware of the events would struggle to relate to the stories.

Some of the stories, such as Eveline, though tries to bring in the theme of indecisiveness among the Irish, it was very short and simple and I would go as far as saying that it ended as soon as it started. And it must also be noted that the story Dead was over a fifty pages long considering in a book comprising fifteen stories, one of them took a little over twenty percent of the book, meaning the rest are too short.

Stories like Two Gallants had a great prospect to be a full-fledged novel but could not be appreciated in its entirety as a short story.

I did occasionally feel that Joyce tried to repeat the same theme fifteen times through fifteen different stories and could have well written a novel featuring Dublin.

Notwithstanding my criticism on the Dubliners, I would still look forward to reading Ulysses from the same author sometime in the future. Considering the above points, I award Dubliners a rating of four on ten, indicating that I was mildly disappointed by the book.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,
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