Dubliners – James Joyce

This work of art reflects life in Ireland at the turn of the last century, and by rejecting euphemism, reveals to the Irish their unromantic realities. Each of the 15 stories offers glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners, and collectively they paint a portrait of a nation.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An odd and – dare I say it? – boring little book. The book blurb – glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners – is very accurate…the short stories cover the extremely mundane lives of working-class city folk, and you’d be sorely disappointed if you went in expecting any interesting action.

And yet.

Despite the lack of drama and plot development, I was strangely intrigued. The book is meant to be boring. For example, take this summary of the chapter “Clay”:

On Halloween night, Maria oversees festivities at the charity where she works. Afterward, she travels to the home of Joe Donnelly, whom she nursed when he was a boy. Along the way Maria purchases sweets and cakes for Joe’s family. When she arrives at the house, she realizes she has somehow lost the special plum cake she’d bought. After talking, eating, and playing Halloween games, Maria sings a song for the Donnellys.

There is a bland main character – Maria, a middle-aged maid, who we don’t find out much about and has no discernible personality. There is uninteresting detail – she used to take care of Joe Donnelly years ago. There is a mild climax – Maria realizes she lost a special cake – but it immediately gets smoothed over again as she ends the story ends in her simply singing a song.

This chapter is particularly plotless and aimless, but once you recalibrate your expectations of what a book should have – compelling characters, a moving storyline, meaningful dialogue – you settle into the pages with almost a sense of comfort. The stories’ subjects lead humdrum lives, but in reveling in that insignificance, you pay more more attention to the detail and inner thoughts behind the characters’ behavior. We learn that Maria, while unexciting, is very fastidious and organized – she loves taking care of others, and other people genuinely appreciate her and like having her around. Her life does revolve around day-to-day tedium, but she excels at it and takes pride in that. And when she sings for the Donnellys, Joe tears up over how dedicated she is to his family. We learn a lot about her by seeing how others react to her.

This book also has its fair share of frustrations when reading it – namely, most chapters tend to end either without any notable point or right before the action happens, which, again, makes sense after remembering the point of the whole book is to focus precisely on the mundanity of everyday life. I altered between mild enjoyment and terrible boredom while reading this though, and I can’t say I would recommend it to most people.

3 thoughts on “Dubliners – James Joyce

  1. I read Dubliners for a course in uni and I totally agree with you. This is definitely not a book for someone seeking an adventurous story. It also isn’t an easy read as there are so many unfamiliar terms and religious references. Though I liked some of the stories in it, I think I wouldn’t recommend it to most people either.

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  2. It almost sounds like 3 stars was too generous :’) This read doesn’t sound particularly “interesting” (lol), but it certainly is different, and I like the way you described it as “you settle into the pages with almost a sense of comfort.” Seems apt! Great review xx

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