I’m going to be teaching “Dubliners” to my Advanced Fiction students this semester, so what luck that we had a square for old books :) Written in 1914, James Joyce hoped to capture the tenor of his city in a series of short stories that act like windows into the lives of Dublin’s inhabitants in the early 20th Century.
Did I like this book? It grew on me. It’s not thematic or cyclic, nor does it have any reoccurring characters. At its core, it’s purely slice-of-life, turning a light on over the heads of the characters in intimate spaces and showcasing their little tragedies and loves, their epiphanies and failures. As with most short story collections, I find it hard to get into since as soon as I start to get to know a character or space, the story ends and we start over. However, Joyce certainly manages to pack density into a short space. One of his greatest achievements in this little volume is flooding the senses with all the sights, sounds, and details of 1900s Dublin. The characters are all insignificant people in the large city hive, working, walking, playing, living and Joyce gives us a short glimpse, like a moving still-life, before closing the curtain and hurrying us along to the next window.
In the beginning, I was not with Joyce, perhaps because I was looking too deeply for some kind of connection from story to story. But as I settled in around story 10, and realized the only thread was the location, I was able to sit back and enjoy the subtext in the mundane of these every day people. Joyce sets his stories to go from childhood to old age, juxtaposing children’s world views with those of their elders. The scope of the stories goes from small and closed to socially aware to introspective. In short term, a life-cycle, showcasing the many aspects of Dublin’s inhabitants.
As short as it is, this isn’t an easy read, but there’s something satisfying and content in its quiet contemplation. I recommend it on the merits of its prose and ability to bring to life a time gone.
Bingo Square: This Old Thing