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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Today is Bloomsday - June 16

Today is Bloomsday. On June 16th each year in Dublin and elsewhere many celebrate the life of Irish writer James Joyce and the events in his novel Ulysses, all of which took place on June 16 in Dublin in 1904. The name comes from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses. BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week this week is a biography of James Joyce and if you wish you'll be able to catch up using iPlayer (available for 7 days).

I first encountered Ulysses when I was a student. I read about 250 pages understanding scarcely any of it. I decided to start the book again - and I'm glad I did because I caught up with it in the second reading, and looked up the words I didn't know. I found it such an incredible book - so inventive/innovative, so clever, so funny, so daring, so varied, so dazzling! For anyone who has not yet read the book, Leopold Bloom's June 16 1904 parallels the episodes of Odysseus/Ulysses' adventures in Homer's Odyssey. Bloom is Odysseus; his wife, Molly 'is' Penelope, Stephen Daedalus 'is' Telemachus... and the adventures with Calypso, the Lotus Eaters, Circe, and all the other phantasmagoria of the mythical story appear before us in its pages, transmuted by Joyce into one of the first stream-of-consciousness novels.

Great though it is, my favourite book by Joyce is Dubliners, a book of short stories, set, obviously, in Dublin, which was Joyce's native city. I think few could read Eveline without being moved by Eveline's sacrifice of her happiness. And few indeed could read The Dead without a host of emotions being evoked.

I was interested to learn in listening to the biography reading this week that Joyce had a fine singing voice, though it was foolish of me not to have realised this anyway.

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