I was thinking today about how various books have become interrelated in my reading choices.
A couple of years ago I was reading Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and by chance picked up another book where one of the characters was also reading Of Human Bondage (Dr Blood Money by Phillip K. Dick) and as he was actually reading out passages as part of his characterisation (being on radio in outer-space) I had to be careful of any plot spoilers!
Lately though it’s been Homer’s The Odyssey and James Joyce’s Ulysses that seem to have featured in my reading. Many of the books I’ve read in the past few months have made reference to The Odyssey (such as The Untouchable by John Banville) and one of my latest reads Elizabeth Costello by J M Coetzee is referenced back to Ulysses with the title character having re-written Ulysses, from the perspective of Molly Bloom, with a book called The House on Eccles Street. The constant reference to The House on Eccles Street had me intrigued so I thought I would check out Ulysses, and when I read that it was loosely based on The Odyssey my next reading schedule was set.
The Odyssey didn’t give me the same challenge as my copy of Chapman’s translation of The Illiad did, but I can see how it would have entranced youngsters for many years. It is more accessible and more of an adventure story. However, it was important for me to read it if I wanted to understand the structure of Ulysses and I do like to do things right!
I started Ulysses as an audio book, but I soon realised that I wasn’t ‘taking in’ the stream of consciousness passages whilst listening to it in the car (driving being my main focus). I bought the book instead and looked up Shmoop on-line who have a study guide for it and started again. I love the myriad of thoughts that go through a character’s mind in just one passage alone and it has made me notice my own thought processes and how they jump around and cut off in the same manner. (Thought is the thought of thought). I can quite identify with Stephen Dedalus, though my thoughts aren’t quite as high ranging as his!
As it happened, around the same time, I started a new audio book in the car (Umbrella by Will Self) and I couldn’t believe it when the opening quotation was announced …….
“A brother is as easily forgotten as an Umbrella.” James Joyce
…… and the opening passage began with Zachary Busner, the main character, singing “I’m an ape man, I’m an ape-ape man” rather gleefully indicating that the narrative style is copying that of James Joyce’s, and boy did I enjoy it, it was so cleverly written. The start of a sentence could be in one time frame with one character and by the end of the sentence you are in another time frame with a different character. Quite often I didn’t even notice the shifts, and rather than being annoyed I enjoyed the challenge of going back and finding where it happened, thinking ‘you crafty bugger’. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much if I wasn’t doing Ulysses and was already ‘in the zone’ for that style of writing.
I’ll be with Ulysses for a while as I intend to take my time with it because it has had such a huge influence on literature and once I have read it I shall so enjoy those literary references that I could not have appreciated if I hadn’t done so.