Ulysses by James Joyce

“To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher.”

Read from March 21, 2018 – June 22, 2018 and DNF
Read/Listened – Restarted from the beginning on November 6, 2018 and finished Oct 28, 2019.

Ulysses isn’t a book that shouldn’t be reviewed and rated. This is a novel that needs to be absorbed and taken in slowly and then discussed for its insights and absurdity. It is an accomplishment to finish this complex and behemoth of a novel. It’s too much, of well, everything. There is so much to comprehend about this book that would likely take a PhD speciality to truly appreciate. Does that mean this book was entirely enjoyable for its near 1000 pages? Nope. Was it still worth reading? Absolutely.

When I first attempted to read this novel I approached it like any other novel and got a physical copy to read. While enjoyed sections of the book this way I found myself easily distracted from the book and couldn’t stay focused and ended up stopping a quarter of the way in. I was determined to read this novel so I thought I would try an audio accompaniment while also reading it physically. This was a strange step for me as I don’t really do audiobooks but it, however, proved to be key in finishing the novel. Not only did I enjoy more of the book but I also retained more.

On top of that, I also looked up summaries of each section before listening/reading it so that I could have a better understanding of the references, metaphors, and meaning behind some of the most difficult areas of the book. Doing this deepened my appreciation for the writing as well as my enjoyment.

While it took me over a year to finish this novel, I feel that it how it is is meant to be read as there is just too much to take and in and consider if not taken in methodically.

For those that would like to try my approach you can get audio and e-versions of Ulysses completely free from these websites:

  • Librivox – Two different audio versions. I would recommend the second.
  • Gutenberg.org – A variety of PDF and Ebook downloads

Librivox is amazing. The whole book has been read by volunteers from all of over the world and while some sections read better than others, it’s still wonderful that this resource exists and would strongly recommend that you check them out for other great recordings if you like audiobooks.

All and all, I’m proud I busted through this classic piece of literature and stand on my position on not rating it. I am curious about other people’s experiences reading this book, like how did you manage to finish it? Did you enjoy it? Or has gone to your DNF shelf? Shoot me a comment below!

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

A creative memoir on the presumed life of an absent mother.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 265 pages.
Read from February 28, 2019 to March 1, 2019.

Anaïs never knew her mother’s mother, Susanne, nor did her mother, really. After her grandmother’s passing Anaïs hired a private detective to get the details on why her grandmother was such a fleeting presence in her family’s life. Short-listed for Canada Reads 2019, this is a creative memoir taken from the facts gathered by the private detective in an attempt to piece together the life a woman who abandoned her two young children and caused a void in her family that is felt for generations. The book will be defended by Yanic Truesdale during the Canada Reads 2019 debates at the end of March.

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Yanic Truesdale will be defending Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette during the debates taking place on March 25-29, 2019.

Susanne was originally written in French under the title, La femme qui fuit (The Woman Who Ran Away) and has been beautifully translated into English by Rhonda Mullins. Bravo to Rhonda who has managed to capture the poetic prose of this story in translation.

Susanne is successfully written in the second person and reads like an elegant poem of yearning as Anaïs envisions her grandmother throughout the different stages of her life. The book is far from accusatory and it reads like a real memoir in many aspects. The yearning is for forgiveness, understanding, and for the answer to the one question that neither the author or her mother get an answer to, why did Susanne leave?

Susanne led a tumultuous and intriguing life that included the great depression, political and art revolutions, alcoholism, homelessness, asylums and more. Even with the details unearthed from Susanne’s life, the author can still only speculate as to what drove her to her decisions and imagine how she might have felt in different parts of her life. Why did Susanne decide to abandon her two children, one of whom is Anaïs’ mother, after giving them such tender care for a few years? And then show up at Anaïs’ birth and a few small moments in her mother’s life? Guilt? Remorse? Forced responsibility? As Anaïs speculates, Susanne may have lived with guilt but ultimately may not have been able to face the choices she made, to which, Anaïs forgives her.

What’s the most moving about this book is the wonderful poetic prose which makes for a highly readable book that is easy to connect with. Anaïs is an immensely talented writer whose writing it literary and stimulating while also being highly accessible. I truly enjoyed this novel and felt entwined with Susanne’s gripping story, even if it is only through the speculative hope of her granddaughter.

This engrossing story is going to give the other contender’s in the Canada Reads 2019 debate a run for their money and I am looking forward to hearing how it is received.

The Secrets of Evil by Robert Bolaño

“This story is very simple, although it could have been very complicated. Also, it’s incomplete, because stories like this don’t have an ending.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 144 pages.
Read August 31, 2018.

Should books be published posthumously? Books like Go Set A Watchman changed the way fans looked at some of their favourite characters and its publication created a lot of controversy about whether or not it should have been. With this particular book, many Bolaño fans seemed thrilled for another chance to read the last remains of a brilliant writer. I for one, am also glad. Robert Bolaño died in 2013, at the age of fifty, of liver disease. This book is a compilation of stories that were discovered on his computer after he died.  Despite having not read anything by Bolaño beforehand, this book was given as a very thoughtful gift and reminder that even the most talented of writers have a process and that not everything that they write is going to be palatable right away. Knowing these small details about this short story complication allowed me to really appreciate its contents, albeit even unfinished.

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Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño. Source: The Globe and Mail

One of my favourite stories in this compilation is “Colonia Lindavista”. This dream-like narrative involves a young teen writer who often listens to his neighbours having sex. late at night. The narrator is curious about their acts but is more intrigued by the silence that follows. The narrator, like many of us, wonders about the private lives of other people.  Many of the stories are brief and offer a glimpse into the private realm of a character but don’t mistake this brevity for lack of depth, Bolaño’s writing style is more than equipped to deliver a full immersion into a character or story.

I read this novel in one sitting, and I would recommend the same for any readers looking to approach it as if you read the stories individually you may not be able to fully appreciate the stories as some are more ‘finished’ than others. The biggest take away I got from this novel is a reflection on my own writing and enforcing my ‘never-give-up’ attitude. It has also instilled a desire to read more by Bolaño to get a better taste for his work as I sense a genius lurking in between the pages of this short compilation.