Tuesday, September 12, 2017

On Finishing FINNEGANS WAKE


I’ve only ever belonged to one reading group, and for eight and a half years we’ve been reading the same book, Finnegans Wake. Yes, you read that right: it’s been eight and a half years. We started the book in April of 2009 and I am thrilled to announce that last week we finally finished James Joyce’s encyclopedic romp through the history of everything.


Finnegans Wake (that’s not a typo—there’s no apostrophe; think of it as a subject and verb) may well be the most difficult English language book there is to read, as it’s full of made-up portmanteau words and foreign language puns, and is written in a dense, stream-of-consciousness style. But if you can wade through the prose, it’s wonderfully rewarding: insightful, beautiful, and at times laugh-out-loud funny. (For a peek at the text, click here.)


 
visual representation of Finnegans Wake by László Moholy-Nagy

It’s helpful to read what others have said about the work, and we bring along satchels full of literary criticism, concordances, and annotations, which we continually consult. We also drink Guinness, which aids in the process (our meetings are held at an Irish pub here in Santa Cruz, the Poet and Patriot).


So, what—you may be wondering—will we turn to now that we’ve finished the Wake? Well, as some of you are no doubt aware, Finnegans Wake begins mid-sentence, the beginning of which occurs at the very end of the book:

       riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs....

[625 pages of text]

... A way a lone a last a loved a long the

As a result, we have no choice but to begin the whole thing all over again. Which we will do (after several months’ break). And this time it will be ever so much easier! (Not.)

A well-loved copy of the Wake

Sláinte!

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