10. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Well, what can I say I’ve really struggled through this one. I’ve always found James Joyce troubling. Currently time is of the essence and I have made myself incredibly busy. I have a deadline fast approaching and have been deconstructing poems, writing my own, and have honestly found very little time to read. The little energy that I have had has felt a little sapped by this novel.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

This is not one of those easy, light hearted train reads. There is a lot to get your teeth into and personally I have always found Joyce’s writing style quite resistant. I don’t find myself enjoying much of his work, I find myself reading out of spite and this novel was no exception unfortunately.

There was a moment, sat on the train, that I promised myself that if I got through the next twenty pages and it was still awful I would abandon it. I’m a sucker for needing to finish what I’m reading and I was very prepared to actually accept that I wasn’t going to finish this one. But just as I hit that hundred page mark the narrative suddenly got much more interesting and I was hooked – for about a quarter of the novel. Whatever it was that really caught my attention died quickly. I did finish it cover to cover, but it has left me feeling quite apprehensive.

The novel follows Stephen Dedalus along a journey of religious and intellectual awakening. Stephen questions the strict religious background he has grown up within and rebels against it resulting in a self exile from Ireland to Europe. This is not an easy route for young Stephen however, trapped between hedonism and a deep religiosity. Exploring both desires of the flesh and prostitution and also strict piety. Stephen’s confusion and bewilderment at navigating the world are a continual feature within the novel. Before Stephen ultimately concludes that Ireland is far too constricting a place to allow him to express himself as an artist.

If I had a different route into this novel and had studied it I believe I would have enjoyed it more. This is certainly a novel that requires far more time than I am willing to give a text when I am seeking novels to enjoy in my free time. It is quite resistant and unyielding. The philosophical debate and the existential crisis that makes the novel is a little exhausting to be part of. It’s a novel that deals with some very very heavy things and reading it certainly feels as if you are trying to tread water with a cannon strapped to your feet.

I am pleased that I have finally gotten around to reading one of Joyce’s longer works, as I had previously only read a couple short stories. But I am certainly glad it’s over.

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