Thursday, January 20, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: The Book I Hate

Literary Blog Hop
Over at the Literary Blog Hop this week, the discussion topic is:

Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university.  Why did you dislike it?”

And, immediately, my mind is cast back to the spring of 1985.  A younger, slimmer, spottier Falaise, sporting the hairstyle David Bowie would have been wearing had he been forced to have his hair cut in a small village by a gnarled old crone, is staring out of a classroom window over a windswept Essex landscape.  On his desk lies a copy of the book that will soon fill him with bile and rage and which, even today, can raise his blood pressure to a level of which his doctor would strongly disapprove.

Falaise opens the book and, at the instruction of his English teacher, begins to read:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo”

Falaise foolishly hopes that things can only get better.  He is wrong.  And I stand (well, sit) here today and am not ashamed to say: I hate A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.

I know, I know.  James Joyce was a literary genius.  Time magazine included him as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century and three of his novels (including Portrait of the Artist) appear in the Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century.  I completely understand that many great writers such as Samuel Beckett and John Updike were influenced by him.  I just can’t abide his novels.  In fact, he is the only author to whose works I have a physical reaction of nausea.

I don’t like stream of consciousness writing. I don’t like interior monologues, which always come across to me as self-indulgent.  And I’m not a big fan of coming of age novels in general.  All of which probably gives a fairly big clue as to why I don’t like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Looking back from across the years, it may simply be the case that I wasn’t mature enough really to appreciate it.  I wonder what my reaction would be to it if I were to pick it up now, never having read it.  I don’t think it is simply due to it being a book I had to study – in general I enjoyed the books I had to study, including works by Shakespeare, Hughes, Sartre, Racine, Homer and Thucydides.  I just didn’t like this one (or Le Blé en Herbe by Colette for that matter – but that’s another story).

18 comments:

Jenny O. said...

I didn't like that one by Joyce , either. Or any Joyce, for that matter. I don't understand the slavish devotion some readers have for him, and the plethora of scholars that devote their careers to making sense of his work. It's been about 7 yrs since the last time I tried to read Ulysses, and I'd like to attempt something by Joyce again, if only to find out if I still hate him, or if I simply lacked the patience to finish his books.

LifetimeReader said...

I wonder how mature you have to BE to enjoy reading Joyce...

And you are braver than I am to have read Thucydides. My father has been assuming I've read him since I was a young history student--and I'm finally going to this year. Wish me luck.

JoAnn said...

Stream of consciousness has always been hard for me, too. The only Joyce I've read is part of Dubliners... am still working my way through it.

booksntea said...

I read something by Joyce once. But, I forget which work I read. See, that's how much I disliked it; I didn't care to remember the name!

Melody said...

I read Dubliners recently and just didn't connect with it at all, which has the nice side effect of not feeling guilty about not reading his other works. Self-indulgent is a good way of putting it.

parrish lantern said...

If only my teachers, had books such as these. One county away & the nearest I got was brave new world.

Heather said...

Ah, I've found another soulmate-Joyce and I are so NOT friends! Do you get people looking at you with pity when you tell them you don't like him, as though you just aren't smart enough to "get" him? I "get" him alright-I just think he's awful!

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

LOL. I loathe Joyce too. Portrait of the Artist of the Young Man is currently sitting in my TBR pile, and I don't want to touch it with a 10 foot pole.

Alexandra said...

LOL! I can just picture you! I’m saving Joyce for when I’m retired…

Adam said...

The stream-of-consciousness thing is coming up a lot this week! I agree, though, I don't like it much. I can't stand Woolf or most Gertrude Stein for that reason. I haven't read any Joyce, though. I do have a few of his books (Dubliners, Ulysses, and Portrait) on my shelves, but I havne't gotten to them yet, mostly because I feel like I won't like it. I did try Ulysses -twice- and didn't get more than 15 pages in before quitting, both times.

Em said...

I still haven't read this one. Read Dubliners and started Ulysses. I don't mind the stream-of-consciousness, but I'm not sure I'm quite ready for something longer than "The Dead" by Joyce...

bibliophiliac said...

The scene you paint is certainly vivid. I do like stream-of-consciousness, but I can see why it would have seemed absurd back then. Then again, there's no law you've got to love Joyce!

gautami tripathy said...

I could never read more than few pages of Ulysses. I gave up on it!

Some books are so difficult to get into. And those put us off that author too, for always.

And my teacher spoiled A Passage to India for me. But I did go back and loved it!

Here is my Literary Blog Hop: Disliked Book post!

Elizabeth said...

My read was STONEHENGE DECODED...uggh. Did anyone else have to suffer through it?

Stop by my blog if you like to see my full answer...I also have a giveaway that isn't very literary, but check it out.

http://silversolara.blogspot.com

Letter4no1 said...

I can't read stream of consciousness, and I didn't make it through more than a paragraph of PotAaYM. Cheers.

The Literary Nomad said...

I was interested to see that you admit to not particularly liking coming of age novels. I have to agree - the sight of the word bildungsroman sends me shuddering and not only because it is such an ugly word itself. I hated Portrait as well and then was further made to suffer watching a film version of it at uni which was no more enjoyable.

Falaise said...

Jenny O - Like you, I keep thinking I should try him again and that maybe this time, I will enjoy his stuff but I just don't think so.

Lifetime Reader - I actually had to read a lot of Thucydides in the original when I was at school and I actually did enjoy it so I hope you do too!

JoAnn - If you haven't given up on Dubliners, you are a better person than me!

booksntea - thanks for the comment!

Melody - At least you managed to finish it.

parrish lantern - I would happily have swapped!

Heather - it's more that I self-criticize for not getting him.

Darlyn - I'm sure you will find plenty better reads in your pile.

Alexandra - believe me, it wasn't a pretty sight.

Adam - I agree, stream of consciousness drives me round the bend.

Em - you seem to be doing rather well with him.

Bibliophiliac - I agree which is why I keep thinking I should try it again.

gautami - A bad teacher is capable of ruining even a good book. Fortunately, I was lucky on the whole.

Elizabeth - I will stop by when I get the chance

Letter4no1 - Given the chance, I would have given up then too.

Literary Nomad - Me and you both.

Orhedea said...

Buahahahah!