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Showing 1-4 of 4 reviews(2 star). Show all reviews
on November 18, 2003
Considered perhaps the finest example of 20th century literature, this is the enormously frustrating, mind-numbingly convoluted, semi-autobiographical expression of one man's spiritual and intellectual awakening. I feared this book for years, and rightfully so. While the prose is immensely fluid - so much so that you barely notice the fact that you've easily read several paragraphs without understanding a word of it - the substance will prove more of a challenge than most intelligent readers are looking for. Unless one devotes an enormous amount of mental energy to close examination of this text, a basic understanding of the plot and message is the most the average reader will come away with. Alas, I opted for the easy way out, and as such, I'm sure there is plenty in this novel that eludes me.
Joyce creates the character of Stephen Dedalus to describe his own experience as a boy growing into manhood. Joyce first examines Stephen's youth, giving careful attention to his family life and upbringing as powerful defining forces in his life. He then focuses on Stephen's spiritual development during his years at a strict religious boys' school. The latter part of the book explores Stephen's embarking on adulthood, as he presides over a battle inside himself between religious faith and intellectual pursuit. It is in this phase of his life that the artist, the writer, emerges victorious.
How this all happens, however, is a cloudy, murky mess, unless you bothered to re-read passages several times and consult secondary sources that might offer insights into the book. While the writing is beautiful, it is also choppy. And while the substance may very well be brilliant, it is often too obscure to be appreciated. Surely that was Joyce's intention. This novel was meant to explore uncharted territory in form and structure, and Joyce has certainly done that.
I will say this much - it wasn't as difficult as I had feared. Despite its inherent challenges, this book is a quick read and is by no means unpleasant. It's simply unsatisfying to invest time and energy in a book, and then come away with only a partial understanding of it.
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on January 29, 2004
I'm sorry but I don't get it. I realize that there is more going on in the book than I understood as I read it, but I don't want to take the time to find out what it was. This book had relatively few pages, but it took me an awfully long time to finish it, and I mean awful. The story is not very interesting. I've noticed that many reviewers are impressed with the form in which the story is expressed - and surely this is part of the reason why this book has endured - but I've always enjoyed substance over form, and the substance for me is the story. One can sometimes identify with the Dedalus, but in the end it's not enough; his story isn't very interesting. I'm sure that a more critical reading of the book would reveal more and make the book more enjoyable, but given the amount of time that one must invest just to read the book, and the small pleasure derived from that enterprise, one is discouraged from dedicating even more to more fully understand. Pass on this book unless you're really willing to delve into it or try some lighter fare . . . like Moby Dick.
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on April 25, 2004
I think my main problem with "Portrait" is simply the narrative itself. And please, don't get me wrong: I've read this twice and even took an English class where, for half the year, we personally analyzed this book and all motifs found through out. But even when I understand all that...this is still painful to read.
And here's the thing: there are parts in this book that I love. For example in the fourth chapter when it describes the main character seeing a girl dipping her toe into the water. I thought that part was well done. Or even the bits in the third chapter where the artist contemplates his sins, I liked those parts as well. But in between these parts, the story just gets so dreadfully DULL! I found myself at times skimming a few pages ahead just to see if this was getting any where.
I think the most hilarious instance in this book, at least for me, was during one of the last two chapters when the "artist" is talking to his four friends. He continues to dribble on and on about nothing. One of his friends tries to change the subject a few times, but our hero just keeps on chatting. Eventually they start to leave him one by one...
Again, this is a book that needs to be STUDIED at different moments, perhaps even QUOTED...but actually READING of this book should be a task taken only by James Joyce fans and the inquisitive only.
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on May 29, 2004
I have failed to understand the significance of Portrait, if it exists at all. If you don't like this book because you don't understand it, then that's OK, it is a book for distorted academicians. In other words, the author is elitist. Was Joyce so embued with self-sympathy that he decided to immortalize his life in the form of a book or what? The style of narration is egoistic: Mr. Joyce is so pumped up with innovation that he decides to startle the reader into admiration. And his motives are understandable: without the style, this book would be like sewage without a sewer.
Now the plot. What can I say? The plot concerns the life of a introvert by the name Stephen Dedalus. He is "different" for some reason, I guess because he shuns social contact, so he becomes an artist. Isn't that justified: you abandon yourself from society, and so you become a castaway, and to keep yourself from plunging into greater vagueness, you become an artist. This is, I feel a very selfish mindset. Its almost as if Joyce himself is justifying his lifestyle. Anyway. Stephen has many mundane travels in such boring places as his quaint Catholic school, the disenchanting streets of Dublin, and the descriptionally absent countryside. I sometimes wonder what this book is truly about: the sexual maturation of a castaway, or an exploration into a unappreciably vague mind, or perhaps a egoistic narrative of social evils? The book's conclusion is equally vague: nothing happens, as I understand it. The process of vagueness probably ends in shaping a teenager into an "artist." He even invents his "artistic theory", which is an unexpected break from the otherwise mysterious thoughts that choke his mind. There is plenty of sex (the bad kind, one that arises from pandering and failure), but not much more. Nonetheless, people most likely read this book to find out how it became famous. My experience was otherwise...
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