James Joyce is named, by some, as one of the greatest writers who has ever lived. Whilst I did not unhesitatingly accept these suggestions I did approach Dubliners with some trepidation and high expectations. However, within the first couple of pages these feelings were allayed and I experienced genuine enjoyment as I read. The book has remained just as approachable as it would have been when it was published in 1914. The covers of each edition might change but they remain focused on the human aspect which is at the heart of Dubliners, as is apparent from the title itself.
The book consists of a collection of short stories which focuses on experiences of both a particularly Irish concern as well as universal human problems. Mrs Kearney in ‘A Mother’ tries her hardest to do the best for her daughter by creating a position of prominence for her in the Irish Nationalism movement. While this might not be every mother’s desire it is clear that she is motivated by her pride and belief in her daughter above all else. However, attempts to break down the stories and describe character motivations and plots misses the point of Dubliners. The plots might occur everyday but the stories are far more ethereal.
There is definitely a feeling of some sort of culmination as the collection ends with its longest short story – ‘The Dead’. Joyce uses this length to expand on details which allow the scene to become inescapably clear and for each character’s foibles to be sympathetically but carefully emphasised. Gabriel Conroy, the main character, has his thoughts carefully detailed by Joyce and this leads us to greater knowledge of Conroy and his surroundings, both material and human. It is this precision that hooks the reader although they remain unsure as to what the significance of certain events might be. If everything in our own lives was observed so minutely I expect that people would quickly experience revelations similar to that of Gabriel Conroy.
Although I would recommend Dubliners this is not a book that will cheer you up and this atmosphere is unlikely to change even if you read it by an open fire. Nevertheless, as I read it I did feel like I was reading some of the best examples of the short story genre and I am even tempted to begin further adventures into Joyce!