UNDAUNTED: Ulysses is a bore

Columnist Steve Daunt could never buy into the Bloomsday buzz. Has he a point or is he a philistine?

I tried to tackle Joyce's Ulysses twice. Both times for pleasure. Both times were in June because, in my innocence, I thought that was the best time to try it. I never read it in college. I knew it would be too hard on my system. I was never drawn to the paraphernalia associated with it: the boater, the bike and the Gorgonzola sandwiches. No, I just wanted to conquer it for myself and chalk it down as a life experience.

What happened?

It left me in a comatose state both times. A third of the way into my trip through June 16th, I felt exhausted. I couldn’t continue. I gave up.

This pattern repeated itself the second time I tried to read it too. 

As it is Bloomsday today and the time of the year when people start thinking about trying it for themselves, I just wanted to get the message across:


It has us in its  grip. It flaunts its so called ‘classic’ literature title to beguile you into thinking that it must be really good and you better read it.

The thing is you will discover that it is mind-numbingly boring. It will make you feel inadequate.

Why do I say this? Well,let's start with the title: Ulysses. That lands us right into the middle of Greek myth. You are going to spend half your time worrying that you never read the Odyssey and begin to sweat tears  that you missed every little allusion to  the original. You will either feel really stupid or you will find yourself flicking back and forth to the footnotes and disrupting the flow of what you are trying to read.

Speaking of the flow, who are we kidding? The book is lauded as a Modernist classic full of passages where stream of consciousness takes over. Let me translate that. There will be passages where one sentence might sprawl over two pages without any punctuation. Where is the joy in trying to plough through that? There is none. Trust me. It’s like trying to convince yourself you find beauty in the most abstract of paintings or artworks. We pretend to like it but deep down, we haven’t a clue what's going on. That might mean we miss the fact that our hero, ahem, pleasures himself while looking at a young lady on Sandymount Strand. I bet that’s going to send you running to the book.

So if the book is such a bore and impenetrable, how do we, as a nation, react to it? We pretend we love it. By ‘love it,' we try to find ways to show off the facts we sort of know about the book. We see it as a weird fancy dress day where we dig out our Edwardian garb and flock to Dalkey or Davey Byrne’s. We try to find an angle. By angle, we try to find a way to make a quick buck for Ireland Inc. For one day only we transform Joyce into Mickey Mouse and Dublin becomes one big Modernist themed house of fun. We pretend we love the book.

It’s only a book. Let’s not fool ourselves with the idea that in some post-apocalyptic scenario, Dublin can be rebuilt from its pages. It’s a book. A very long book that is very hard to read.

A boring book.

Happy Bloomsday!