I like how this book starts, the way the first sentence takes you immediately into a place of questions or uncertainty or play: “Step inside and take a look, or perhaps he said a book, sweeping his magic wand in a semicircle in front of him” (3). The story is structured as a walk through a museum about James Joyce, or maybe it’s a whole museum just about Joyce’s Ulysses. We move through the museum—and Joyce’s work—along with our narrator and the tour group he’s part of: the bow-tied museum guide, a loud American professor, a quiet man with a laptop, and three “readers” (two men and a younger woman) called A, B, and C, who seem, maybe, or maybe not, to work with the museum. After the museum guide gives an outline of Homer’s Odyssey, a reminder of its sections and structure, we move straight into Joyce’s Ulysses: Buck Mulligan and the Martello tower, then Mr. Deasy’s school and the history lesson Stephen gives there, and so on, through the book. The characters all put forth their own interpretations of Joyce’s plot and how it relates to Homer, their own ideas about what the right way(s) to read Joyce’s work are—the autobiographical or not, the emphasis on Dublin vs. the emphasis on the structure provided by Homer’s work, etc. There’s lots of wordplay amidst the quibbling, particularly in short sections at the end of the chapters called Passageways: passages like this:

They all burst out laughing, said the Cicerone, when one of Stephen’s pupils tells him Pyrrhus was a pier.
A pyrrhic pirouette that gives Stephen an empirical victory over the dock of the bay, said A.
Encore “pier,” said B the Francophone. (43)

I like the wordplay, and I like how this book often imitates the style of Joyce’s,—a chapter with the questions and answers of a catechism, a stream of consciousness chapter like Molly’s monologue—though I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say, as the back cover puts it, that the characters’ conversations consist of “walking the line between a slapstick parody of the Joyce industry and a legitimate “guide for the perplexed””: it’s playful and funny, yes, but the humor is more subtle than what I would call parodic. I did appreciate the book’s steadiness as a guide: it’s been six years or so since I read Ulysses in college (and OK, confession, I didn’t finish it—we were supposed to finish it up just before finals week and it just was not happening—I did read most of it, though) but I never felt lost or overwhelmed while reading The House of Ulysses. I think Ríos’s book probably works best if you have read at least some of Joyce’s Ulysses, but even if you hadn’t, I still don’t think you’d be too lost, and this book might provide some inspiration to go read (or re-read) Joyce, to experience for yourself Joyce’s telling of a day in the life of Dublin, Stephen Dedalus, and Leopold Bloom.

8 Responses to “The House of Ulysses by Julián Ríos
Translated by Nick Caistor
Dalkey Archive Press, 2010”

  1. Dorothy W. Says:

    I like the idea of reading this as a way to prepare for a Ulysses reread or as a follow-up to it. I read Ulysses in college, but it would be great to tackle it again and take more time with it. Reading it in the rush of college life probably isn’t the best, although having the professor there to help was wonderful.

  2. Heather Says:

    Dorothy, yes, exactly – reading Ulysses in a class was great in some ways, not so great in others! The class I read it in was a class focused on Joyce – and within the class, Ulysses was the work we spent the most time on – so in some ways we were taking it slow, and as you say it was great to have the professor’s guidance, but at the same time, Ulysses was competing for time/mental space with all the other books I was reading for other courses!

  3. Stefanie Says:

    I am intrigued by the sound of this book. I plan on reading Ulysses in 2011. Perhaps if I survive the experience I might give this one a go!

  4. Heather Says:

    Stefanie, sounds excellent – I look forward to reading about your thoughts on Ulysses when you read it!

  5. Thomas McGonigle Says:

    Now is the time to go on to LARVA by Rios…

  6. Heather Says:

    Thomas, you’re probably right – though I just looked at a few pages of it on Google Books and am not sure I’m up for it! Although maybe I’d feel differently if I weren’t sitting here a) before my morning tea, though soon that’s going to be afternoon tea and b) with a fever. Hmm…. Will it make me want to read Finnegans Wake and re-read Tristram Shandy?

  7. Thomas McGonigle Says:

    You might want to go to London after reading LARVA. The book comes with a nice fold-out map and a picture section to guide you on your tour…
    LOVES THAT BIND from Knopf is enjoyable and a tour guided by all the heroines of literature

  8. Heather Says:

    Ah, well, I always want to go to London, so that wouldn’t be anything new!

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