4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2004
Okay, here's the deal: if you've never read Ulysses before and want a quick and easy way in, Blamires is a great way to go. But be forwarned. While Blamires renders the story down to easily digestible bits, it is not (and I can't emphasize this enough) a substitute for reading Ulysses itself.
Perhaps the best approach (my approach at least) is to read a chapter of Blamires followed by the same chapter in Ulysses (others, I'm sure, will recommend Ulysses first followed by Blamires). Certainly, this constitutes reading two books at once, but it'll be worth it in the end. Another good source to begin with is Heffernan's Joyce's Ulysses, a four DVD set that can't, apparently, be purchased through Amazon. It is, however, available through The Teaching Company (a quick Google search will find the location, and no, this isn't a plug).
Now, both of the above sources focus on plot and character with virtually no emphasis given over to style (yeah, Yeats called Ulysses a book without style, but that's not really what he meant), and the provided analyses are at a very basic level. Interestingly enough, while Blamires shies away from the often raw sexuality of Ulysses, Heffernan positively laps it up. Further, given that Blamires provides us with an updated 1996 edition of his book, it's a little odd that he seems to miss certain elements of Ulysses that modern Joyce scholars have picked up on. For instance, is Stephen masturbating at the end of the Proteus episode? There is evidence to suggest that he is, but Blamires is silent. It is generally acknowledged that a fight ensues between Stephen and Buck Mulligan in the intervening period between the Oxen of the Sun episode and the Circe episode. Again, Blamires is silent.
Ah, but perhaps I'm treating Blamires unfairly because I did write above that his book was a quick and easy way into Ulysses. Besides, when explicating Ulysses, you don't want to give everything away (and even if you did, it would certainly take more pages than what could be found in a single volume). And so Blamires's book is deserving of its four stars because it is very good at what it purports to do (Heffernan is, I think, a little better).
Now that I've thoroughly offended you with my condescending and didactic prose, I shall in all likelihood offend you even more. Once you've read Ulysses, you'll want to read it again. During your first reading (along with Blamires of course), read it quickly, and don't worry too much if you can't understand the foreign languages or various biblical and mythical allusions.
There are three versions (well, editions really) of Ulysses: the original 1922 edition (Oxford), the 1961 revised edition (Penguin or Everyman), and the 1984 Gabler edition. I'd suggest starting the with 1961 revised edition as this is probably the cleanest (the Gabler edition has since become mired in controversy).
For your second reading, choose another edition and read it more slowly with a companion piece such as Thornton's Allusions in Ulysses, Gifford's Ulysses Annotated, or Gilbert's James Joyce's Ulysses - now you can take a closer look at those obcure allusions (but don't feel that you must look up every single one).
For your third reading, choose the edition you haven't yet read. At this point, you're ready to let Joyce's magnificent prose wash over you without the help of secondary sources. However, you're also prepared to approach the more scholarly literature if you wish. A journal like the James Joyce Quarterly can be a good place to start.
Of course, all of this begs the question: should Ulysses be read in conjunction with secondary sources in the first place? Ideally, no; realistically, yes. Ulysses constitutes a serious challenge for most readers, so secondary sources such as Blamires will certainly be helpful. By the same token, however, secondary sources can never replace the primary text.
N.B.: Since I believe in Karma, I'm sure I'll get my comeuppance for my oozing condescension in this review.
on December 30, 2003
Would you travel to an unknown land without a guide? In James Joyce's seminal work, Ulysses, we find ourselves adrift in some very strange lands. Linguistic, cultural and literary references abound - along with a good helping of pure weirdness. Blamire's book helps us get through this jungle - and still have a good time doing so!
The New Bloomsday Book follows Ulysses chapter by chapter (note that Ulysses doesn't actually have chapter headings so just this information by itself would be wonderful). At the beginning of each chapter Blamires relates the forthcoming pages to the equivalent works from Homer. Then we have the pertinent points mentioned, with discussion about important issues as they arise. Cross-references to other important parts of the text are given which is particularly useful when, as often happens, Joyce mentions something in passing that takes on greater signficance a hundred pages further on.
The level of detail is about right. We don't get commentary on every single allusion or phrase but we do get the highlights - enough for us to keep our footing on this journey and get pleasure out of the trip. If I tackle Ulysses again - and it will be a while! - I may want a more detailed reference such as Gilberts, but for a first read, The New Bloomsday book is the essential choice.
The book has page references to the Gabler edition, the Penguin edition and occasional references to the Oxford edition. I read this with the Penguin edition and didn't notice any discrepencies.
on October 17, 2001
Sure. You can read ULYSSES without a guide, but why? There's so much that even Joyce himself couldn't catch if he hadn't written the book. There are many forward references. I'm reminded of an advertisement Bloom finds in one of the early chapters. The address is encoded with all sorts of information that Joyce hasn't yet disclosed. Blamires explains a lot of this for you. Well, who's to say what "a lot" is when talking of ULYSSES. OK, he explains some of it.
As noted in another review, one of the satisfying things about THE NEW BLOOMSDAY BOOK is that it doesn't give away all the fun stuff. Which leads me to my recommendation on how to use it. For the first half of the book, I read the episode and then read Blamires. This, I think, is the usual way.
Then I tried to read Blamires first. What a difference. My fear, and maybe yours, is that reading Blamires first will be a spoiler. Well, when you a finish an episode and don't know what has happened there's really nothing to spoil. I recommend reading Blamires first. Armed with the knowledge of what to look for you can discover the ingenious ways Joyce tells the story.
Again, Blamires just gives you the essentials. There will still be plenty of thrills if you read the episode after reading Blamires.
on December 30, 1999
When I started my class in Ulysses, I couldn't understand the variety of different languages and various styles that James Joyce employed in his writing. I read the Bloomsday Book after I condensed each episode in my notes and suddenly I could fathom the meaning of the book. I carefully read the original section and highlighted important sections. With the Bloomsday Book, I could understand the meaning of these highlighted sections. I especially enjoyed the clarity of the Bloomsday Book; it brought the original work to life and gave new meanings to each segment. The section that I selected to discuss was the last episode, Penelope. At the first reading, I was baffled to find no punctuation. But the word yes seemed to dominate the entire work. Molly Bloom was definitely a yes woman. And yes, I managed to decipher Molly's rolling monologue through the description of each sentence and the meaning of the 8 separate paragraphs. Even though Ulysses presented a enigmatic style of writing to interpret, I enjoyed the book thoroughly and plan to re-read the text again because through this Bloomsday guide, I could put the pieces together and discover the wonder of James Joyce's epic.
on April 28, 1998
Many books aspire to shed light on Ulysses. Many are narrowly philological or encyclopaedic. If you want to know the meaning of a word or the provenience of a song, joke, or proverb, you can use these books much as you would a dictionary. They are keyed to both the old (Random House) or new (Gabler) editions of Ulysses. Blamires, by contrast, is useful if you are--and you will be--all at sea about such rudimentary details as where you are, what is happening, and who a character is. For example, in the chapter which is set in a Dublin maternity hospital, identified by Joyce only as a place of parturition associated with a certain doctor (whose name you will never have heard), Blamires sets the scene, identifies the characters, themes, patterns of imagery and allusion in such a way that what had seemed hopelessly obscure is bathed in light. After reading Blamires I found the text approachable and moving and amusing--i.e., difficult still, but difficult in the way that any major English text is difficult, rather than hopelessly, riddlingly obscure. I ought probably to add that Blamires is a brilliant reader, a wonderful combination of the gifts that characterize a "common reader" (in Virginia Woolf's sense of the word) and a modest and helpful scholar. In other words, he does not make Joyce accessible by having failed to notice that he (Joyce) forgot more than you, reader, will ever know. I warmly recommend this book.
on May 24, 2000
After several fail attempts to derive a decent amount of meaning from the Circe chapter, this book made it not only clear but fun. Other chapters, which I thought I had a good grasp of, such as the Penelope chapter, became even more lucid. Blamires provides a road map to get through the Ulysses labyrinth without allowing himself to get bogged down with every detail, leaving the reader the delight of discovering the treasures of allusion him or herself.