Book Review: Dubliners by James Joyce

Young Joyce, glasses, mustache
Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Year of First Publication: 1914

Year of Publication for This Edition: 2001

Number of Pages: N/A

Publisher: Project Gutenberg

Genre: Fiction

Sub-Genres: Short Fiction

Find the ebook on Project Gutenberg or the paperback on the Book Depository. (Disclosure: I’m an affiliate.)

As part of “Reading Ireland Month,” hosted by Cathy of 746 Books and Niall of The Fluff Is Raging, I picked up one of the great classics of Irish literature, James Joyce’s Dubliners. This collection of fifteen short stories follows the lives of everyday people living in and around Ireland’s capital city.

Prior to this, I had never read a word by Joyce. Since I’ve heard him described as a “love him/hate him” author, I didn’t know what to expect from Dubliners. So I was pleasantly surprised when Joyce’s writing captured me almost immediately. His style in these stories is lively and almost fanciful in a way. Take for example this passage from the eighth story in the book, “A Little Cloud”:

As he crossed Grattan Bridge he looked down the river towards the lower quays and pitied the poor stunted houses. They seemed to him a band of tramps, huddled together along the riverbanks, their old coats covered with dust and soot, stupefied by the panorama of sunset and waiting for the first chill of night bid them arise, shake themselves, and begone.

That’s one of many delicious paragraphs in this book that I thought were worth remembering.

In some ways, this book is very different from every other short story collection I’ve read. For one thing, these stories are far less plot-oriented than what I’ve been used to. These days especially, it seems all stories have to have twists and turns and lots of fast-paced action. Dubliners, though, is a different type of literature. Here, there are no surprise endings, no grand dΓ©nouements, and, by most standards, very little action. These are regular, middle-class people in turn-of-the-century Dublin going about their everyday lives. We just get to follow them around.

But that doesn’t mean these stories aren’t powerful. Granted, there are a few that I was eager to be done with (I’m looking at you, “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”), but then there are others that incredibly beautiful in their portrayals of love and loss. “The Dead” is worth the price of admission for its ending alone. “Araby,” “A Little Cloud,” and “A Painful Case” were some of the other highlights of the collection for me too.

As great as these stories are on an individual basis, I think they’re even better considered as a whole. Over and over in these stories, we see similar themes, characters faced with similar challenges, and even recurring names between stories. Joyce seems to weave a web over Dublin, showing how all of these people’s lives intersect with and mirror each other. At the same time, though, this isn’t some kind of loose novel—the characters in one story are clearly divided from the characters of another. That’s brilliant, especially for a book about the city, as it shows how those living in cities—and sometimes, those outside of them too—can be so interdependent on people and so isolated from them at the same time.

Before closing, I’d like to remind my fellow readers, especially Yanks like myself, that Irish politics are complicated and that Irish English is confusing: it’s best to buy an edition with lots of footnotes. πŸ˜‰

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Dubliners by James Joyce

    1. This one definitely is “character-driven.” I heard one person say that character sketches are where Joyce excels most, and I would have to agree. πŸ™‚


  1. Great review! I too read this for Reading Ireland Month and was pleasantly surprised by how much his writing appealed to me. I loved The Dead and a Painful Case, and my other highlight was Eveline. Ha! And I was quite eager to find my way out of that Committee Room too… πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

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