Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #77

Title: Finnegans Wake
Author: James Joyce
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: This may be the blandest cover so far...

Thoughts: This is the book that nearly did me in. I spent four months reading it, probably the longest time I've ever spent on a single book, four months of pain and suffering. When I finally finished it in February, all desire to blog (and every last shred of discipline I ever possessed) had been sucked out of me by the whirling abyss that is Finnegans Wake. I started reading with hope and optimism, which was quickly replaced by nagging worry (which was inevitably followed by intense frustration). I expected the book to be something like, oh, maybe Trainspotting-- written in a difficult vernacular that would suddenly open up and make sense after a chapter or two. Not so with FW. The plot (I use this term loosely) centers around a father and son, stand-ins for periods of Irish history. After that things get really convoluted, particularly since Joyce is interested in the way that stories get distorted with time and likes to spin and re-spin the episodes in the novel. I purchased the Joseph Campbell skeleton key and read it simultaneously, and with Campbell's aid, I sometimes could pick out themes in the text, but I never felt like I truly understood what was going on. Joyce is clearly a talented wordsmith (as evidenced by the abundance of puns in the book, many of which made me chuckle), but I just couldn't wrap my brain around this one, no matter how hard I tried.

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