Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey by Daniel Mulhall — review

Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey by Daniel Mulhall — review

Gerry Molumby reviews Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey and points would-be Joycean scholars in the direction of other excellent guides

Marking the centenary of Ireland’s most famous novel, and possibly the most famous novel worldwide, this introductory guide by Dan Mulhall opens up Ulysses to a whole new readership. It offers insight into the literary, historical and cultural elements at play in James Joyce’s masterwork which focuses on a day in the life of Dublin.

If you’ve ever been wary of reading Ulysses, perhaps daunted by the sheer literary reputation of the book, Dan Mulhall’s guide is as good a place to start as any.

Both eloquent and erudite, this book is an initiation into the wonders of Joyce’s writing and of the world that inspired it. The writer is Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s current ambassador to the US, and formerly Ambassador to Great Britain.

One hundred years on from that novel’s first publication, Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey takes us on a journey through the redoubtable world of fiction. Exploring the eighteen chapters of the novel and using the structuring principle of Homer’s Odyssey as a template, Daniel Mulhall releases Ulysses from its reputation of impenetrability, and shows us the pleasure it can offer us as readers.

Dan sets out with blatant honesty his personal evolution and journey in getting deeper into and appreciating the ‘everyman’ that Joyce has created in Leopold Bloom.

He tells us not to be overly-concerned about the parallel with Homer’s Odyssey but introduces us to it in his insights to the various episodes.

Mulhall’s knowledge of Irish history eases us through the many historical references in Ulysses. My copy has many corner fold-overs I will be returning to regularly.

I first began to read sections of Ulysses back in 2004 when asked to take part in the first Bloomsday in Northampton on the 100th anniversary of the date James Joyce and Nora Barnacle ‘walked out’ together. That was June 16, 1904 — the date we all know now as Bloomsday.

I then moved on to Frank Delaney’s Odyssey where he recreates Joyce's Dublin with photographs by Jorge Lewinski. This is still one of my main references when it comes to Ulysses. Frank sets the scene but allows the text to paint the images. His cultivated Tipperary/BBC voice on his podcasts are a joy to listen to.

Similarly Edna O’Brien’s James Joyce is a must for any Joycean scholar — a lyrical, spirited study of the author.

NOTE: Gerry Molumby will be playing the part of James Joyce in a production of Letters to Lucia by the graveside of Joyce’s daughter, Lucia Anna Joyce at Kingsthorpe Cemetery, Northampton, June 16, 7pm