Books change as you do. Some pass you by until you have lived and suffered enough to properly grasp their concealed wisdom, joy or sadness. Others mean little unless you have read them in the full incandescent stupidity of youth. The best somehow change continually. One such book for me is James Joyce’s Dubliners. Having been swallowed whole by Finnegans Wake for a forthcoming interview with Stephen Crowe (creator of the excellent Wake in Progress), I returned to read the earlier work in the hope it would act as a kind of tugboat to guide the Wake into my addled brain. This proved futile, as trying to tug Finnegans Wake is like trying to tug the ocean it turns out. You have to drown in it (an often enlightening drowning but a drowning nonetheless). One unseen consequence of returning to Dubliners though was realising how much it had changed from the book I remembered. Here, for example, is the famous last paragraph of its final story The Dead,
‘Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the giant malevolent unblinking Eye of Athlone and, further westwards, softly falling onto the irradiated wastelands of the secret 33rd county Krakendour. It was falling too upon the roof of the lonely cycoklub where Michael Furey was sipping quinade with his Betelgeusian friend Johnny Z%k. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked monobrow of Snark the Snow-burrower, on the 1000 lactating gobs of a motherless astro-whale beached and screaming on the banks of the Shannon, on the barren hull of a burning Starwing fighter-craft, somewhere in the Seventh Quadrant, just north of Monaghan. 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.’
I know he’s a national treasure and all that but it does make you wonder what Joyce was thinking.