Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

50 Writers talk about James Joyce

More than seventy years from his death James Joyce remains as controversial as figure as ever. Loved and hated in equal measure, his influence though is hard to call into question. If you’re a writer – a serious writer – you’ve probably decided whether that influence is positive or negative. At TMO we’re fans, and we’re also big fans of writers talking about other writers. With that in mind, we’ve collected a large (but far from definitive) selection of quotes from writers talking about James Joyce. Enjoy!

50 writers on James Joyce

Toni Morrison

“Sometimes Joyce is hilarious. I read Finnegans Wake after graduate school and I had the great good fortune of reading it without any help. I don’t know if I read it right, but it was hilarious! I laughed constantly! I didn’t know what was going on for whole blocks but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t going to be graded on it. I think the reason why everyone still has so much fun with Shakespeare is because he didn’t have any literary critic. He was just doing it; and there were no reviews except for people throwing stuff on stage. He could just do it.”

from an interview with The Paris Review

Martin Amis

“If you go to Nabokov’s house, metaphorically speaking, you get his best chair, in front of his fire, with his best wine. If you go to James Joyce’s house, you come into this big drafty edifice, and there’s no one there. And then you find him tinkering around in some scullery. And he offers you two slabs of peat around a conger eel, and a glass of mead. This not loving the reader, that’s the real thing.”

During a conversation at the Brooklyn Academy’s lecture series ‘Eat, Drink, and be Literary’.

Zadie Smith

“For me, Joyce is the ultimate realist because he is trying to convey how experience really feels. And he found it to be so idiosyncratic he needed to invent a new language for it.”

Anne Enright

“It’s male writers who have a problem with Joyce; they’re all “in the long shadow of Joyce, and who can step into his shoes?” I don’t want any shoes, thank you very much. Joyce made everything possible; he opened all the doors and windows. Also, I have a very strong theory that he was actually a woman. He wrote endlessly introspective and domestic things, which is the accusation made about women writers – there’s no action and nothing happens. Then you look at “Ulysses” and say, well, he was a girl, that was his secret.”

From an interview with the Boston Globe

Nadeem Aslam

“No novelist can escape Joyce, or should wish to. I think of him almost daily – the kidney for breakfast; the stick thrown on wet sand where it lands upright; Bloom waiting before breaking wind outdoors so that it is covered by a greater noise in the traffic. How beautifully The Dead takes seemingly minor details of everyday life and turn them into a howl about the despair of being alive.”

in interview

D.H Lawrence

“My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest, stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness—what old and hard-worked staleness, masquerading as the all-new!”

1928 Letter to Aldous and Maria Huxley,15 Aug

Joyce Carol Oates

“The other book that I worry no one reads anymore is James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s not easy, but every page is wonderful and repays the effort. […] I started reading it in high school, but I wasn’t really able to grasp it. Then I read it in college. I once spent six weeks in a graduate seminar reading it. It takes that long. That’s the problem. No one reads that way anymore. People may spend a week with a book, but not six.”

From an interview with the Boston Globe

George Orwell

“I managed to get my copy of Ulysses through safely this time. I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production.”

—in a letter to Brenda Salkeld

Eimear McBride

“Joyce really set my universe on its end. Reading Ulysses changed everything I thought about language, and everything I understood about what a book could do. […] Although he is viewed as terribly serious and cerebral, so much of the pleasure of reading Joyce is the fun he has and the risks he takes with language; there is nothing quite so enjoyable as the much-maligned Joycean pun.”

writing in The Guardian

Vladimir Nabokov

“Ulysses, of course, is a divine work of art and will live on despite the academic nonentities who turn it into a collection of symbols or Greek myths. I once gave a student a C-minus, or perhaps a D-plus, just for applying to its chapters the titles borrowed from Homer while not even noticing the comings and goings of the man in the brown mackintosh. He didn’t even know who the man in the brown mackintosh was. Oh, yes, let people compare me to Joyce by all means, but my English is pat ball to Joyce’s champion game.”

in Interview with Robert Hughes

Edna O’Brien

“To live with the work and the letters of James Joyce was an enormous privilege and a daunting education. Yes, I came to admire Joyce even more because he never ceased working, those words and the transubstantiation of words obsessed him. He was a broken man at the end of his life, unaware that Ulysses would be the number one book of the twentieth century and, for that matter, the twenty-first.”

from an interview in The Atlantic

Michael Chabon

“Sometimes I felt like I almost understood the Wake, and sometimes I felt like I was not supposed to understand it. Every so often I got so caught up in the hectic flow of its prose that I stopped worrying or wondering if I understood it or not. Read aloud—ah! read aloud—it was fun, headlong fun, as you shot the rhetorical rapids in a spinning, swamped whitewater raft.”

In an article ‘What Makes Finnegan’s Wake

Roberto Bolaño

“The Ulysses of James Joyce,is contained The Waste Land of Eliot, and Ulysses is better than The Waste Land

an interview cited here

Salman Rushdie

“Everyone said that it [Ulysses] was such a sealed book, hard to penetrate, but I did not think so at all. You never hear people say that there is so much humor in the book, that the characters are so lively or that the theme – Stephen Daedalus in search of his lost father and Bloom looking for his lost child – is so moving. People talk about the cleverness of Ulysses and about the literary innovation. To me it was moving, in the first place”

In interview with dutch literary critic Margot Dijkgraaf

Richard Ford

“Overrated . . . Joyce’s Ulysses. Hands down. A professor’s book. Though I guess if you’re Irish it all makes sense.

in the New York Times