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

My Copy: 9780760726242 (image scanned by me)

Sheesh, all these classics and I aren’t getting along very well. Considering I’ve got some Irish in me, I’m a little miffed that I couldn’t get into this one. I tried four times over the past month, re-read the introduction twice, and then when it came down to it, got only 30 pages in at the most before giving up.

Now, I was prepared to like this one. I’d seen it on so many classics lists, and the main character, Stephen Dedalus, is on plenty of best character lists. I wanted to know what the fuss was about, and since it’s been on my bookshelf nearly 20 years, I figured it was time.

Maybe I should’ve tried to read it when I was younger and more patient…and first bought it. I might’ve liked it then.

I tried to read it without the introduction, then went back and read the intro to get my bearings. This is one of the few not-helpful intros I’ve read so far. This particular Joyce biographer couldn’t stop mentioning Joyce’s other book, Dubliners, and how A Portrait… helped make that one. I wanted to get a gist more for this book, dammit, and just ended up more confused. Now I’m sure I’ll never read another Joyce novel (unless I happen to have another one on my shelf right now, then I’ll definitely read that one…and will hopefully be able to finish it.

I’ll give A Portrait… props for displaying the unique style of narrative writing I’d always heard it was. But my praise is ending there, because I had a hard time with it. I can’t figure out how to describe it, except that it’s very fragmented.

I suppose the best way I can is to say it’s like walking through another person’s head, but one with ADHD or something. Everything’s momentary and changes in an instant, as if written stream of consciousness style or something. I was VERY confused when reading it, and even reading far slower than usual–even slower than when I read Shakespeare, for crying out loud–didn’t help.

The story jumps back and forth between past and present so abruptly I forgot where the character was supposed to be, and if he was worrying about something in the now or remembering previous worries.

It felt like we were channel-surfing, jumping into a person full of scattered thoughts, stress, family concerns, money concerns, disappointments, questions, dreams, etc.

In short, it felt like taking a trip through MY head!

I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. They’d go nuts.

I’m sure the style was novel for its time, but as prone to distraction and information overload as we are in the 21st century, I can’t imagine this would be a comfortable narrative style for most people to read from start to finish.

Definitely not my cup of tea, but it could be yours. Again, I couldn’t finish, so feel free to take this review with a grain of salt.

For myself, I’ll be happy to free up shelf space and donate this book.


One thought on “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce

  1. Sifar says:

    I remember during my college days walking past library shelves and coming across this book each yime and thinking about taking it but something in me didnt feel much inclined somehow and i would take another book….yet the title of the book would stay in my head! Maybe i kind of knew i will not be able to enjoy it!
    And it stayed on your shelf for 20 years?!! 😅


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