Sunday, 27 May 2012

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (2.5/5)

Goodreads says: Joyce's semi-autobiographical chronicle of Stephen Dedalus' passage from university student to "independent" artist, is at once a richly detailed, amusing, and moving coming-of-age story, a tour de force of style and technique, and a profound examination of the Irish psyche and society.

Stephen Dedalus is a fictional alter ego of Joyce and an allusion to the consummate craftsman of Greek mythology, Daedalus.

A novel written in Joyce's characteristic free indirect speech style, A Portrait is a major example of the Künstlerroman (an artist's Bildungsroman) in English literature. Joyce's novel traces the intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening of young Stephen Dedalus as he begins to question and rebel against the Catholic and Irish conventions with which he has been raised. He finally leaves for abroad to pursue his ambitions as an artist. The work is an early example of some of Joyce's modernist techniques that would later be represented in a more developed manner by Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The novel, which has had a "huge influence on novelists across the world", was ranked by Modern Library as the third greatest English-language novel of the 20th century.

I say: Goodness me, this was a piece of work and a half. After reading Dubliners, I felt somewhat assured that I liked James Joyce, but having read this, I’m not so sure anymore.

To be perfectly honest, this bored me to no end.

Especially chapter 3, which dealt with Stephen listening to a sermon told by a priest about the Bible, Christ, heaven and hell and everything that I’ve already heard a gazillion times. Although I understand that Stephen was feeling guilty over the sins he had committed, it felt like Joyce was merely writing about this sermon for the sake of it. I’m sure there are a lot of people who may not be as familiar with Christianity as I am, but even so.

It was all far too much.

Not to mention all the Latin that was sprinkled all over the place without translation; my pet peeve.

I have come to the realization that I like Joyce’s style of writing – when he is writing about something interesting. However, this was, unfortunately, not interesting enough for me.  After warming to young Stephen, he became quite tiresome after he left school the first time; everything after that came in such extremes; from being an utter sinner to wanting to join the church to realizing that’s not really what he wanted to do.

It all felt so compressed, and I can’t get over the possibility that this may have been better if Joyce had taken his time with Stephen’s life.

But what do I know?

2.5/5 because even though I appear to like Joyce’s writing, this is one portrait I’d hang in the basement. Faced against the wall.

Yeah, I said it.


  1. Haha, I like your review and your honesty. This is the reason I haven't picked up anything by Joyce yet, but maybe this is just the wrong book to start with.

  2. Yeah, I'd start with Dubliners. I really enjoyed that. I think the problem I have with reading classics is that I expect them to be brilliant and mind-blowing, and get easily confused when they turn out to be boring. Obviously, we can't all love everything and I'm still giving Joyce one last try with Ulysses when I finish reading The Odyssey.

    I'm a sucker for pain.