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
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).