Monday, July 4, 2011

New biography of James Joyce

The new biography of James Joyce by Ian Bowker, has received a lukewarm review in The Guardian. Here is a link to the review. I had to smile at the reviewer's (Adam Mars-Jones) point about the biography's use of cliches.

Joyce loved cliches, but only for the purposes of taxidermy. Ulysses in particular is full of them, stuffed and mounted. What would he have made of: "Unknowingly, Nora Barnacle from Galway had made a date with history"? Or: "Little escaped the voracious mind of the observant epiphanist"? Such formulas are a challenge to parody.

The first example comes close to my my most hated cliche in all writing: Little did they know... Such phrases should attract demerit points, even an instant fine.

 Ulysses was originally published by a 'group of friends', led by Sylvia Beach. Beach was an extraordinary supporter of writers in Paris in the 1920's including Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. I recall reading in a bio of Hemingway that Beach was in fact the only friend Hemingway ever had whom he never 'fell out' with.

One notable NZ book published in a similar way was The Bone People by Keri Hulme, only brought to life as a published book by a group of friends, when publishers had dodged it. Those who seek books of significance have much to thank such passionate supporters for. 

Looking at the photo of James Joyce and Sylvia Beach reminds me of going to the modern incarnation of her famous bookstore in Paris, and enjoying the history of it, then realizing it isn't the original store nor on the original spot. I believe the original spot is now a $2 junk store. Kind of sums up so much of the modern world, really...

1 comment:

  1. What an enjoyable post, thanks James! I'm interested though, are the cliches there as vernacular expressions of the characters using them?