James Joyce's Dubliners is a collection of short stories about the lives of the people of Dublin around the turn of the century. Each story describes a small but significant moment of crisis or revelation in the life of a particular Dubliner, sympathetically but always with stark honesty. Many of the characters are desperate to escape the confines of their humdrum lives, though those that have the opportunity to do so seem unable to take it. This book holds none of the difficulties of Joyce's later novels, such as Ulysses, yet in its way it is just as radical. These stories introduce us to the city which fed Joyce's entire creative output, and to many of the characters who made it such a well of literary inspiration.
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This is probably the best-produced version of Dubliners on Audible. Naxos does its customary magic with the incidental music: carefully-selected songs set each story apart; sometimes the song echoes the theme of the story; sometimes it's the actual music referred to in the story. The effect, from an atmospheric standpoint, is great. Jim Norton has a great voice too, deep and timbre-y. My only problem is that he's a bit on the quiet, subdued side, even when Joyce seems to be calling for a more raucous delivery. This is true at least of the narration; dialogue is captured here with great energy and a wide variety of voices.
The stories themselves are wonderful. I never liked "Dubliners" much until I made up my mind to listen to them; and after listening to four different versions now, I've discovered a wondeful thematic unity across all the stories, an almost cyclical development of images and situations. (Just to take the most obvious example, the book begins with a story about two sisters and ends with a story about two sisters.) There's a great deal of sly humor and good will as well. If you decide to listen to "Dubliners," do yourself a favor and listen to all of them, in order.
The stories usually end on an oddly discordant note, without a clear resolution; they take some time to get used to. That's one reason why the musical interludes on this recording are so important and so effective.
- Tad "Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer, Mark Twain, Walt Disney, History."
Souls Yearning and Failing to Fly Free
In the fifteen stories of Dubliners, people feel trapped by and yearn to escape from their homes or families or marriages or schools or jobs or communities or religions or lives--or anyway from Dublin--but do not know that they feel trapped or yearn to escape or do not know how to achieve their desires. The stories would be grim were it not for the spare beauty of their prose, the rich irony and humor of their situations, and the sense that even as they authentically, scornfully, and affectionately expose a particular time (early 20th century) and place (Dublin, Ireland), they also reveal the secret places of the human heart. How a boy may love a girl with all the pure and sensual religion of his soul; how a teenage girl may reject her only chance at love, freedom, and happiness; how an old spinster may enjoy a holiday party; how an alcoholic father only at home in a public house may exorcise his frustrations on his son; how a mother may become too righteous and dominating for her daughter's good; how a wife may love her baby and hate her husband; how a husband may suddenly realize the gulf between his thoughts and his wife's… Joyce's gift for writing characters who feel so human (almost) redeems the dark epiphanies or bleak conclusions of his tales.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses are, I believe, greater than Dubliners. Some of its stories give too little pleasure. Some of its protagonists are not compelling. Some of its epiphanies remain opaque. And though its restrained prose makes for clear reading, I miss the exuberant play with language of his wonderful novels. Apart from "The Dead" (a masterpiece), I don't want to re-read Dubliners, whereas I am looking forward to re-reading Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses.
As he does for the novels, Jim Norton gives an inspired reading of Dubliners. He exudes a deep understanding of and appreciation for every word and every sentence. He gives voice to each character (including children, women, and old people) with complete conviction and ease, so they all sound just right in emotion, agenda, tone, accent, and personality. And the audiobook samples period songs that feature in the stories before or after they begin or end.
Although Joyce's prose in Dubliners does not usually attempt the flights of fancy or exuberant language of his novels, there are great descriptions and moments, like the following:
"How my heart beat as he came running across the field to me! He ran as if to bring me aid. And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little."
"But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires."
"Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger."
"Her eyes, which were grey with a shade of green through them, had a habit of glancing upwards when she spoke with anyone, which made her look like a little perverse Madonna."
"She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat."
"He longed to ascend through the roof and fly away to another country where he would never hear again of his trouble, and yet a force pushed him downstairs step by step."
"He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side glances."
"She seemed to be near him in the darkness. At moments he seemed to feel her voice touch his ear, her hand touch his. He stood to listen."
"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."