Will Self: Umbrella (2012)
James Joyce: Ulysses (1922)
Thomas Bernhard: Extinction (1986)
James Joyce: Finnegan’s Wake (1939)
I started with what I have since found the easiest to read, Will Self’s book, a direct descendant of the lineage of James Joyce, and that sent me back again to Ulysses. I embarked on this with a gulp, knowing from my previous reading that I was about to plunge into deep waters and then, increasingly, finding myself swimming around in a maelstrom of words, all ultimately somehow flowing together into a current I could understand. Then thanks to a friend I was introduced to the German writer, Thomas Bernhard, and found myself choosing his last book. Here I faced 600 pages (in German) without a paragraph or a chapter, but thankfully with the occasional full stop. This represented a greater challenge, requiring of me short immersions of about 25 pages a time, or at the most a daring 50, but a masterpiece without doubt.
And now here I am, swimming even further out into the moily depths of Finnegan’s wake (see how Joyce’s language is already affecting me), determined as I am at last to reach the distant shore of its final cryptic words: …”A way a lone a lost a last a loved a long the…”, which will bring me back to its beginning again. I understand very little of it so far, and am at page 100! But I am getting some help from the synopsis in Wikipedia, and I take to heart the editors’ advice, beautifully written in itself, “Gentle reader, were you to ask How should I read this book? we would answer: passively, like any good book, neither too fast nor too slow. Do not pause because you cannot understand a word or words: you are not expected to understand it all….You are learning a language: a night language. Morning will come and the clouds of unknowing will begin to dissipate.”
I leave you with a quote from what I regard as a book of supreme poetry rather than prose: “From goddawn glory to glowworm gleam.” And I trust that morning will soon come!