Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fiction: James Joyce's "The Dead"

I spent a while procrastinating doing my Horace early this morning reading James Joyce's "The Dead" from Dubliners. As I mentioned before, it has been a long time since I have read much fiction. Since my favorable re-acquaintance with the super-genre upon Corinna's recommendation of Invisible Cities, I decided to follow the recommendation of another old friend and read "The Dead," as I was recently given an Amazon gift certificate and a nice annotated version was $0.99. This friend and I have extremely limited overlap in our literary taste, but some incomprehensible inclination drew me toward the story. So I read it-- and I was absolutely shocked to discover I genuinely liked it.
The Dead: James Joyce's Famous Story Annotated
"The Dead" tells the story of a quaint and well-mannered dance and dinner with a group of eccentric Irish characters. The drawing-room comedy reminds me of a toned-down and more realistic version of Oscar Wilde or Jane Austen with a slightly less delicate language and more focus on the men. There is also a sort of disturbing and melancholy undertone that focuses on the thoughts and reminiscences of the characters much of which is involved in propriety, politics, and those who came before. No character is entirely at peace with their lot, their world, or their place in history and this manifests most clearly in the existential discomfort of the main character.

I kept meaning to stop reading the story and return to my Horace, but I could not put it down. Even across time, the characters were so familiar. I was expecting Joyce (as he is in the excerpts I have read) to be meandering and odd for its own sake. In my prejudice, I expected him to write those novels that made me stop taking English classes-- the ones where horrible characters suffer mercilessly at the whim of the author and make (me) the reader miserable because I am subjected to simultaneously hating them and gaining no joy from their demise. It so pleasantly surprised me that this was not the case. I highly recommend "The Dead" to anyone with a spare hour or so. Presumably it can be found for free in the public domain version of Dubliners.

Happy reading, everyone!

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