I’m a critic. It’s my job to praise or condemn books. But there are times when praise just gets in the way. I remember back in the mid-80s everyone was going on about Neuromancer by William Gibson; in the end they praised it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to read it. In fact it was ten years before I got round to reading the book, and when I did I could see the historical importance but I just wasn’t as blown away by the book as everyone else. It couldn’t live up to the hype.
Well I’m facing a similar problem now, though on a slightly grander scale. One of the great writers I’ve never read (there are always more great writers I’ve not read than I have read) is James Joyce, so I thought maybe now is the time to start. I began with Dubliners, and, well, it’s all very good, but why is it not thrilling me? Okay, I’ve not got as far as ‘The Dead’ which is the story everyone singles out for praise, but I’ve started to get nervous about getting there. Is it just that my expectations are so high? Or is it that the collection, in the very act of breaking new ground 100 years ago, became the model that so many others have followed that it no longer can appear new? And in either case, how on earth do you read Joyce today?