Bursting the joy of Ulysses

The Guardian


It is constantly voted the greatest novel of the last century and perhaps also the most likely to be abandoned after a few pages. Now Ireland’s best-known modern writer has put literary Dublin in a tizz by confessing that he too can’t be bothered with James Joyce’s masterpiece ‘Ulysses’.

Roddy Doyle, the Booker prize winner and the bard of raucous Dublin demotic, chose a Joyce birthday celebration to dismiss the epic story of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom as overrated, overlong and unmoving. “Ulysses could have done with a good editor,” Doyle told a stunned audience in New York gathered to celebrate the great man who is credited with inventing the modern novel. “You know people are always putting Ulysses in the top 10 books ever written but I doubt that any of those people were really moved by it. I only read three pages of ‘Finnegans Wake’ and it was a tragic waste of time,” he added. Worse still, he claimed that Joyce was not even the best Irish writer. That accolade belonged to Jennifer Johnston, the relatively little-known author of ‘The Captains and the Kings’.”

The timing of Doyle’s outburst could hardly have been worse with the centenary of Bloomsday, June 16, the date on which ‘Ulysses’ is set, looming. The Irish government are helping to pay for six months of celebrations culminating in a “Bloom’s breakfast”, when 10,000 people will sit down on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare and feast.

Dublin, despite Joyce’s view on it, has been quick to cash in on his legend. At least 30,000 visitors flock to the James Joyce centre each year. The Dublin tourist board says Joyce’s impact on revenue is immeasurable. Rejoyce 2004, the six-month arts festival that will commemorate Bloomsday, will draw hundreds of thousands for a Joyce symposium, exhibitions and a light and music “spectacular’’ along the river Liffey. A new film version of Ulysses has also been made.