Dubliners by James Joyce review

Hi everyone! Today I thought I’d talk about the short story collection Dubliners by James Joyce, with my edition also containing an introduction and notes by Terence Brown. I’m sure many of you have already read it so I will try and keep my thoughts brief. These interconnected stories all take place in the Irish capital, and seem very much like love notes to the city. Joyce also tackles political and social situations during this period, and comments upon Irish society.

The structure of Dubliners is impressive, with the opening stories featuring child narrators to the final one entitled ‘The Dead’. While Joyce details life in Dublin through the narratives, the order of the stories mimic this, as we travel from childhood to old age and as a reader you see a range of views due to this. But having the stories appear in this order means it all feels coherent and not disjointed, which short story collections can sometimes be. There weirdly feels like a progression through the book, despite all the stories having different narrators.

The intertextuality within the narratives is also well done. Joyce makes constant references to Irish songs and ballads, linking the past to the present. It also alludes to Irish culture and how Dubliners has joined these earlier works as part of this canon. Yet Joyce also references other famous works. In ‘The Dead’ – my favourite from the collection – there are allusions to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story of doomed lovers becomes even more tragic in Joyce’s work, as our narrator Gabriel isn’t one of the couple. Instead he is seen as a bit of an interloper, with his wife and another man playing the leads. In a way it feels like a strange retelling of the play, relocated to Dublin and if Juliet had survived. These references to various other works subtly help add depth to Joyce’s stories without being in-your-face.

Joyce’s writing, however, is the main highlight for me. The language used is quite simple, but it is the amount of emotion he is able to convey through it that is genuinely impressive. It feels effortless. There were so many moments I wanted to memorise or underline as they effectively conveyed great meaning in so little words. While I admired Joyce’s writing, I was a little annoyed by Terence Brown’s notes. He feels the need to explain to the reader what ‘R.I.P’ means, and later on he says Glasgow is a Scottish city. Twice. Within 14 pages of each other. I may be an idiot, but I’m not THAT much of an idiot. There seems to be little point in explaining something already explained, and it drags you out of Joyce’s stories.

Dubliners is an impressive collection of stories, it is hard to believe it was first published over 100 years ago. Joyce’s imagery and word choice is simplistic but evocative, and you feel you are walking Dublin’s streets with these characters. The references to other texts help to add meaning to the stories. Despite not being too impressed with Brown’s notes, Dubliners is an impressive collection, and quite rightly lauded.

Dubliners is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.

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4 thoughts on “Dubliners by James Joyce review

  1. I’m not a Joyce fan, but this book is really good. Luckily, I was assigned the book in school, so I was forced to read it. I might not have otherwise, so I’m glad I did. I might have to check it out again. thanks for sharing.

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  2. Totally. Finnegans Wake is super tough, and Ulysses is even harder. I had a much easier time with Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. I think that one is the best (and shortest) of his later works. But I think Dubliners is really worth reading.

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