I have to admit being somewhat impressed when a friend mentioned en passant on facebook that finding James Joyce’s Ulysses heavy going, she had instead picked up Finnegans Wake. Now, as you doubtless all know, Finnegans Wake is the difficult book’s difficult book. Even people who read Thomas Mann or The Glass Bead Game for fun find it hardish. Based on the Irish song about a man in a coma who is awoken when whiskey is accidently thrown in his face during the wake held in the mistaken belief that he is dead, Finnegans Wake describes the dreams he has while unconscious. Or so I’m told. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story based with a similar story but which does not end so happily though it is somewhat shorter.
I’ve not read Finnegans Wake and to be blunt, don’t really intend to. I’m having a go at Ulysses and quite enjoyed the first 49 pages (Wordsworth Classics Edition, £2:00), certainly beats all that ‘once upon a time there was a cow it was a moo cow’ stuff that blights the first sentence of A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, but I just cannot foresee a time when I will want to read the later work. Apart from anything else, I don’t have a copy and Wordsworth Classics don’t do one. Now I come to think of it, I’ve not actually even seen many copies of it. I worked for ten years in an Oxfam book shop and never once was a copy donated which might mean that it is such a loved book that it is never parted with or that there’s damn all copies in circulation.
Apparently either Pozzo or Lucky in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is based on Joyce, I wouldn’t know. Beckett of course was Joyce’s compatriot and fellow allegedly ‘difficult’ writer, the main difference being that the latter killed Germans and played cricket, one in his capacity as a member of the French Resistance and the other in his pursuit of a loved sport, though I can never remember which.
Oh and there isn’t meant to an apostrophe in the title, I believe. The great Flann O’Brien maintained that it was assorted editors insistence in adding one that contributed to Joyce’s early death.