Thursday, June 27, 2024



A recently deceased priest’s indiscretion is discussed by people at his wake. Two boys skipping classes meet a middle-aged man who teaches them a thing or two about life. A staunch supporter of the Irish Revival gets her daughter involved as an accompanist at a badly-planned concert. An alcoholic falls down the stairs at a bar in drunken stupor; his family suggests a religious retreat. A failed writer gets a visit from his friend who has succeeded in the field in London. A young woman contemplates on what life would be if she ran away with a sailor. These are some of the many stories found in James Joyce’s Dubliners, which has been hailed as a milestone in Irish literary history at a time when the country was in the midst of a fierce quest for a distinct identity stoked by nationalism.

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories that its author collated and eventually published as a novel after being rejected by fifteen publishers. Now I feel conflicted because I did not like this novel at all. I don’t even know if we should call it that. The only unifying theme of the fifteen stories is their setting in Ireland in the early 1900’s. No shit, Sherlock. As if the title can’t be any clearer about that? Regarded this way, I guess the appeal of this book is its slice of life style of narration. The stories somehow serve as a time capsule of daily life in Dublin at the turn of the 20th century which is said to be a crucial time in the country’s history.

I can’t even remember the characters that much, perhaps because there are too many of them. What remains in my head are disjointed storylines and some hazy recollection of the characters. Please don’t ask me their names, because I won’t be able to give you any. In a way, such style of a novella compilation is similar to that of Goodbye to Berlin, with both storylines unfolding at an important part of a capital city’s history. You can detect some of the important political events unfolding in the background.

The length of each short story varies a great deal, with the last one entitled The Dead being the longest. That chapter also seems to be the only one that remained in my head in a clear way, along with the first one entitled The Sisters which dealt with the dead priest. Perhaps what I was looking for but didn’t find was at least some loose connections among the characters or an all-encompassing story arc that involves all of them, except that there doesn’t seem to be any aside from the time and place where their stories unfold. Sometimes it is hard to care about characters when there is no bigger picture or event uniting them.

One thing I find fascinating but rather distracting is the author’s use of dashes instead of quotation marks for dialogues. It just feels wrong to see the direct quotes blending not quite smoothly with their respective tags. In any case you just get used to it quickly. Despite the flurry of disjointed narratives, maybe there is still something here for everyone since the storylines are diverse anyway. There are subplots about failed dreams, married life, the-one-that-got-away romance, political leanings, and many more.

There are some characters who end up reappearing in some other chapters but, as mentioned, they really don’t have anything connecting them aside from the temporal and physical space that they happen to occupy. Was there no important socio-political event or upheaval that time that could have served as an anchor for all of the characters to feel some sort of connection with each other? A revolution? A war? I am becoming repetitive now. Basically that is my problem with this novel. To put it bluntly, it bored me to death..

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