James Joyce’s Ulysses has prompted many cultural spin-offs but never, to date, a sequel. This may be down to the Joyce estate’s intervention or simply cold feet. What author in full possession of their senses would attempt a follow-up to the greatest novel ever written?
The challenges are formidable: to own the antecedent material rather than merely borrow it, to do something new with it and not to fly too close to the sun. Chris McCabe fortunately has the talent to match his chutzpah and, in dismantling and reassembling Joyce’s novel, he has created a complex and original work of fiction that is much more than pastiche or mere homage. As a poet he has a sure feel for Joyce’s prose style, or styles, both in the liberal use of compounds (the first page gives us seasand, airdew, dawnblue, catpurrs, sourbreath and eggwhites) and in his confident adoption of the stream of consciousness technique, a once strikingly modernist mode which can these days seem slightly quaint. McCabe’s writing is consistently very fine, even if it does not always support the scrutiny that Joyce’s does. How could it?
The eighteen short episodes in Dedalus correspond to those in Joyce’s original from ‘Telemachus’ to ‘Penelope’, but McCabe does not exploit the Homeric substructure, electing instead to map his sequel against the five acts of Hamlet. Stephen is naturally the Prince, with others doubling as Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius, Ophelia and