Saturday, 17 January 2009

"Unfold th’impenetrable mystery" (Ann Radcliffe)

As it turns out, I will only lay my hands on Murphy and Malone Dies on Monday or Tuesday, so I thought I’d have another look at Finnegans Wake in the meantime. I remember I bought a copy of it back in 1991, during my first trip to the UK. It was a second-hand edition that I found at SKOOB’s, off Marchmont Street. I’ve never been back since then, but a quick search on the net tells me they are still there and, by the look of it, thriving. I must pop by again one of these days.

At the time, I had just finished rereading Ulysses in English, and was curious to sound the formidable depths of Joyce’s last novel. I tried several times over the years, but couldn’t get past the first thirty pages. I don’t know what happened to that copy, because it’s no longer on our shelves. My memory of it is that it was a relatively slim book with a green cover – around 250 pages or so. So I was mightily surprised when I picked up from our local library Faber’s “Copyright” edition, which runs to 628 pages. It took Joyce eighteen years to write, and will probably take me thirty-six years to read, if I can stick with it. Mmm, we’ll see.

Calder’s books are known in the States under the imprint Riverrun Press (named after the first word of Finnegans Wake), so in a way I feel even more guilty that I haven't read this book. On the other hand, looking inside at random, I find sentences such as “Here, and it goes on to appear now, she comes, a peacefugle, a parody’s bird, a peri potmother, a pringlpik in the ilandiskippy, with peewee and powwows in beggybaggy on her bickybacky and a flick flask fleckflinging its pixylighting pacts’ huemeramybows, picking here, pecking there, pussypussy plunderpussy.” I have a hunch I won’t enjoy it this time either.

There’s an Irish actor who knows large parts of it by heart, and last year he performed at the Calder Bookshop in front of a small but ravished audience. We are trying to organize another Finnegans event soon – possibly in March or April – and involve Tom McCarthy in the proceedings. Tom is a great fan of this work, and claims to have been greatly influenced by it. I am curious to hear how.


1 comment:

  1. Just to say that my favourite novel by Beckett is Molloy, if you have an option of getting hold of that one. I found it more intriguingly structured than either Murphy or Malone Dies. But Beckett's prose is unmistakeable, no matter what you are reading by him. I hope you enjoy it.


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