Mark Solomons

Readers of Ulysses have a right to be smug

Credit: Getty Images

Happy Bloomsday everybody. Today, 16 June, is the day on which the events of James Joyce’s epic novel, Ulysses, is set and the anniversary is celebrated every year by fans, scholars and people who simply want to look clever.

Millions of people either cite the tome as the greatest piece of literature ever written, or as the biggest load of pretentious drivel: so complicated that you can’t get past page 46 before giving up.

Hardcore devotees to the 1922 work based on Homer’s Odyssey, will even follow the route taken by its central character, Leopold Bloom, through Dublin from a Martello Tower on the coast via a funeral and a selection of pubs and bars and the red light district of this fair city. Many fail to make it to the end – and the same can be said of a great many who have tried to read it.

But those who have? Well, it’s like the old joke, originally about vegetarians. How do you know if someone has read Ulysses? They tell you.

And that includes me.

That’s because it feels like an achievement. For those of us who are not avid bookworms, it is the mentally exhausting equivalent of conquering Everest. It is 800-odd pages of one man’s stream of consciousness, including dream sequences and whole sections written without any punctuation. Admittedly there’s not many laughs but plenty of raunchy sexual references which attracted the ire of the censors back in the day.

In many ways, it’s a book to be admired rather than enjoyed, a lavish explosion of words and thoughts and themes from marriage to religion to drinking to politics. The kind of book where you look back and wonder what kind of person has the sheer depth of knowledge, willpower, ability and sheer genius to be able to produce such a remarkable body of work.

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