There is an old dilemma for the reader – or teacher – of Joyce’s Ulysses: whether or not to embark on a reading without introductory guidance. Joyce himself recognised the problem by giving ‘schemas’, of debatable usefulness, to Carlo Linati and Stuart Gilbert. Gilbert’s 1930 book is still a valuable guide, as are Richard Ellmann’s Ulysses on the Liffey and – above all perhaps – the various editions of Harry Blamires’s Bloomsday Book. There is no doubt that some parts of Ulysses are a demanding read, with or without direction. And it has often been noted that there is an irony in the fact that this novel celebrating the common man is written in a form that the common man cannot easily understand; that, in the words of Terry Eagleton’s song, Joyce is ‘the greatest Irish genius that nobody can read’.
This is the problem that Declan Kiberd takes on in his sparkling new book about the democratic Ulysses. His ambitious objective is to win the book back from the esoteric academic interpreters and footnoters for a general readership, practitioners of the ‘everyday living’ of the subtitle. Some way