Top positive review
I Love a Book with Controversy!
on February 21, 2004
This is one of those great pieces that really divides the audience. If you read fellow reviewers' comments, one says that no-one should rate this below 4 stars while another says no-one should rate it above 1 star. Some people admit they don't get it, some people say there is nothing to get, and some dive deep into Joyce's world. What a gift!
For my own thoughts...as I rate it, I think I need to rate it more as a piece of art rather than a typical piece of literature. When I review literature, I consider character development, plot development, narrator's voice, story-telling ability, etc. With Joyce, he shows you so much and tells you so little, that it's really hard to nail alot of facts down. How old is he in the beginning? How many siblings did he have? Did he have a crush on the same girl throughout the book? Why did Dante have 2 brushes? What exactly caused his father's fall? There is just so much information that Joyce doesn't bother telling you. It's like the opposite of watching "The Wonder Years" or "Scrubs" where you get a play-by-play account of the action and a foreshadowing of what was to come.
At first I was very unnerved by his approach. I like to have a groundwork laid, and I didn't even know how old Dedalus was when the book started (I had trouble translating the Irish school system to an equivalent year here). However, the world as seen through an intelligent but vulnerable and geeky boy was fascinating. I loved the vivid accounts as seen by a child with no attempt to correct or add to this perspective by some adult voice.
As the story progresses, Joyce skips through time, apparently selecting important scenes in his young life. But he doesn't tell you they are important. He just shows them to you, like flipping through a picture book. He leaves you to draw up your own conclusions. If nothing else, it was clear that Dedalus (representing Joyce) was on a tough track. He had an artist's temperament even early on (emotionaly, extreme, caught within himself), but as his family slipped into poverty such a nature would be harder and harder to accept.
By about the middle of the book, I became completely enraptured with his use of metaphors...the images are so lovely, so perfect, so unforced that it hardly seems right to compare them with the crude, simple, ignoble ones I run into so often in literature. This mastery of words thrilled my soul, regardless of the plotline and character development; in this way, it was more like music than literature.
By the end I saw a clear progression of Dedalus' character, as is well described in the 2nd spotlight review. Not only does the complexity of the writing increase as Dedalus grows older, but his characater evolves as he tests the water in many arenas. He has gone from a pretentious child who is so vulnerable because he has no outlet and no understanding of how he is different to one who can dialog with the masters (Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, etc). He has found a home in academia and a vocabularly to express his inner worlds. He made not have found peace yet, but he has found that he has a place in this world.
However, again, I would say that the understanding you gain is more like that of glimpses gained through art than through literature. I don't know that I could ever fully understand everything he was talking about, why he was talking about, who he was referring to, etc. Therefore, I rate this highly as a masterful artistic rendering of a coming-of-age story. If you are looking for a clear fiction or biography, however, this might not be for you.