James Joyce’s fifteen short stories, originally published in 1914, are an insightful portrait of Dublin’s middle-class in the early twentieth century. Joyce creates instantly believable characters; his gift for description let me accept them immediately as alive in their tales. It’s lines like the following that show his ease of style:
‘His conversation, which was serious, took place at intervals in his great brown beard.’
This is from ‘The Mother’, a story in which hints of humour describe a controlling mother whose expectations are disappointed as the tale unravels. Another of my favourite lines came from this piece:
‘She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed; though she knew the small number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as male.’
Other highlights for me came with ‘Eveline’, ‘Little Cloud’ and ‘The Dead’ which share a depth of emotion. All the stories share the common theme of epiphany, I feel that the moments of revelation in these three are the most affecting.
Joyce’s dialogue is a thing of beauty. He skilfully crafts authentic voices for each speaker in varying dialects. The extraordinary vocabulary is another reason to read this; it was a joy to be reminded of words that I hardly ever see like ‘equipoise’ and ‘lugubrious’.
I had the preconception that Joyce was going to be hard going, but that really wasn’t the case at all. I tended to read just one story at a time when I had a moment as each stands alone. It wasn’t one of those books that once I’d started, I had to finish immediately, but the stories stayed in my mind for a long time afterwards and I periodically found myself drawn back to it, compelled to re-enter Joyce’s Dublin.