Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

50 Writers talk about James Joyce

Dana Spiotta

“I think Joyce would be very pleased (and not surprised) that nearly a hundred years after he wrote his book, people are still getting the jokes, getting wowed, feeling moved, feeling shocked, finding the connections, and in every way meeting his ambition. It makes me realize that requiring a lot of a reader is also giving a lot to the reader. I want to expect a lot of readers.”

in interview

Rachel Kushner

“For years all I’d read of Ulysses was the first hundred pages plus the Molly Bloom soliloquy, and nevertheless I had the audacity to still consider myself an admirer of that work. Later I read the whole thing, but in that earlier time, it was much better to have read some of it than none of it.”

in interview

Donna Tartt

“I know I don’t love Ulysses as much as I am supposed to — but then again, I never cared even one-tenth so much for the Odyssey as I do for the Iliad.”

Howard Jacobson

“The great triumph of Ulysses is to have found in a man so careful of where he treads, so confused about who he is, so modest in his achievements, so put upon by life, so lacking in aggressive masculinity, and so egregiously betrayed by his wife, not only heroic stature but a model that has, by and large, governed the way we have written, and the way we have thought about writing, for the best part of a hundred years. ”

Lecturing on Ulysses

Virginia Woolf

“I bought the blue paper book [Ulysses, & read it here one summer I think with spasms of wonder, of discovery, & then again with long lapses of immense boredom. . . .. This goes back to a pre-historic world.”

cited here in a discussion about Woolf’s complicated response to Joyce

T.S Eliot

“I hold this book [Ulysses] to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape. These are postulates for anything that I have to say about it, and I have no wish to waste the reader’s time by elaborating my eulogies; it has given me all the surprise, delight, and terror that I can require, and I will leave it at that”


John Kelly

Irish writers sometimes talk about Ulysses in the same way students at Hogwarts talk about Lord Voldemort – the name must never be spoken aloud. Worse again there are those who insist that Ulysses is a book that nobody has ever read when, in fact, they’re speaking only for themselves. But if you have read Ulysses and enjoyed it, then to ignore its influence would be like a horn player ignoring the presence of John Coltrane, or a guitarist conveniently forgetting Hendrix. I’ve read Ulysses several times. I keep it by the bed. I read sections of it for pure pleasure. I laugh out and I marvel quietly.

in interview with Bookanista

Karl Ove Knausgaard

Ulysses is imperfect, contradictory, and chaotic; it really isn’t one thing. Well that’s how I experienced it. The Dead is a perfect short story. The best short story ever written .

in interview

Siri Hustvedt

The best policy I have found in relation to all art is to relax. I remember I was so intimidated by Joyce’s Ulysses at eighteen that I tied myself in knots and had no fun with it. I stopped reading. A couple of years later, I told myself to relax and just get out of it whatever I could. I loved it.

talking at Foyles Bookshop

Nadine Gordimer

Look at Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. To me, that’s the ultimate proof of the ability of either sex to understand and convey the inner workings of the other. No woman was ever “written” better by a woman writer. How did Joyce know? God knows how, and it doesn’t matter.

from the Paris Review interview

John Berger

“I first sailed into James Joyce’s Ulysses when I was 14 years old. I use the word sailed into instead of read because, as its title reminds us, the book is like an ocean; you do not read it, you navigate it. [..] Now I was about to write: there were many parts, during this first reading, which I didn’t understand. Yet this would be false. There were no parts that I understood. And there was no part that did not make the same promise to me: the promise that deep down, beneath the words, beneath the pretences, beneath the claims and everlasting moral judgment, beneath the opinions, lessons, boasts and cant of everyday life, the lives of adult women and men were made of such stuff that this book was made of: offal with flecks in it of the divine. The first and last recipe!”

Berger’s essay on Ulysses

Colum McCann

“I’ve been discovering and rediscovering him ever since. Ulysses is the most complete literary compendium of human experience. Every time I read it, it leaves me alert and raw. I recently had a chance to look at a rare first edition. When I cracked open the spine, a tiny piece of the page dropped out, no bigger than a tab of acid. Nobody was looking, not even Kerouac. So I put it on my finger and did what anyone else would do: I ate it.”

in the Books that changed my life series in GQ magazine

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“They [Joyce and Kafka] showed me that it was not necessary to demonstrate facts: it was enough for the author to have written something for it to be true, with no proof other than the power of his talent and the authority of his voice. It was Scheherazade all over again—not in her millenary world, where everything was possible, but in a irreparable world, where everything had already been lost.”

talking to the New Yorker

Kurt Vonnegut

“Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story Eveline is this one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.”

from How to write with style

Julian Gough

“I grew obsessed with this 1967 Bodley Head edition of Ulysses. And not just because my father had thoughtfully marked “the dirty bits” in the margins in blue biro, so you wouldn’t have to reread the whole book to find them. My father’s considered opinion of James Joyce was, “That man is obsessed with shite.” I disagreed; Joyce simply gave everything equal weight and attention, including what had previously been taboo. He didn’t look away as Bloom entered the backyard jakes, or fade to black as the lads entered the brothel. Shocking. But exciting. Liberating.

I skipped the bits I found boring (I was young; there were many). But Leopold Bloom’s pub conversation with the Citizen, and Molly Bloom’s internal conversation with herself, blew my teenage mind. The sex, sensuality, swearing; the language, its energy, its invention; but, above all, the electric honesty.”

from James Joyce: You can’t ignore the bastard