Reading Finnegans Wake

Doing my bit to support local businesses as they come out of lockdown I decided to order a book from the excellent independent bookshop on Main Street. You can’t browse there yet but you can order books for collection.

I went to collect my order yesterday. I was worried that they might be struggling for business but the place was chock-a-block with packs of school books ready for collection ahead of the new school year.

I picked up this bit of light reading:

I disagree with people who say that Ulysses is a difficult read, but Finnegans Wake is certainly a challenge. The lady in the bookshop said “Good luck with it!” as she handed it to me…

Alfred Hitchcock once claimed that “puns are the highest form of literature” and one of the features of Finnegans Wake is the constant stream of puns (in different languages). It seems that almost every sentence contains some form of double meaning too. Finnegans Wake may be hard going but it’s very playful, not only with linguistic meaning but with the sounds that words make, which can be delightful in itself independently of what they’re supposed to mean.

I’ve always thought of Finnegans Wake not so much as a novel but as as a very long poem to be read out loud. Indeed here is a strange but fascinating clip of Joyce himself reading an excerpt. Note the attention he pays to the rhythm:

I’ve set myself the target of reading 10 pages a day, which means it will take me a couple of months to finish it. I’ll try reading some bits out to myself, though I can’t do the accent…

2 Responses to “Reading Finnegans Wake”

  1. brissioni Says:

    Ulysses may be easy to read but apparently that one day contains worlds. As an American I don’t find it easy going. I’m reading David Mitchell’s new book Utopia Road.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    One of my favourite cartoons from Private Eye long ago – I took a photocopy but lost it, to my regret – is a man shaking a cardboard box titled “Instant Punctuation” over an inscribed sheet of paper on a table. Commas, fullstops and semicolons are cascading from the box toward the paper. Brilliant (and if anybody knows where I can inspect a copy, please inform me).

    Now why should this cartoon have come to mind…?

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