” A life, said Joyce, that’s a lot of days. » Many days have passed since the publication of Ulysses in France on February 2, 1922, notes Philippe Forest. A century that made this book a classic with a strange fate. The biographical sides are very present. In Dublin, every June 16, “Bloomsday” – in reference to the date of the events of the novel – is a popular tourist attraction. But the book is little read, and even often treated as a false masterpiece, a reference for snobs and teachers. Philippe Forest intends to transmit to this injustice which excludes the readers of “an eminently readable novel that no one should deprive themselves of”.
Novelist and essayist, he bet on this book which “presents itself as a guide”, a reading journey accompanied by a connoisseur. Chapter after chapter, he takes the place of the reader facing the book. The reader he was and the reader we are, or will be, alike and unique. And first the title. The reference to Homer is necessary, but what in fact? Deciphering allusions, a book in each hand? The exercise can be fun, but remains a bit futile: Joyce himself explained them. Deeper, we must understand the tricks of the myth which, like its hero, employed “a thousand turns” to start over each time a first sentence of a novel is written. Even if it means inverting their values, making fun of the most venerable Homeric institutions, like the wise Nestor consulted by Telemachus reincarnated as a pompous, conformist and anti-Semitic school principal. Thus is introduced a reflection on history, time and literature which is only one of the tracks that we can take to find our way in the labyrinth surveyed by Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom.
We would like to thank Philippe Forest for wanting to make a Ulysses for Dummies. It may not be necessary to be to start reading, but one will certainly not be after having completed it to start with Joyce a new Odyssey.