The great Irish writer still casts a shadowby Julian Gough / May 22, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Too difficult, too scandalous for school, you read Joyce the way you listened to late punk, or early rap.”
I grew up, the son of an Irish fireman and nurse, in a house with few books. We had a nursing manual, packed with astonishing photographs of extreme, untreated diseases; a Collier’s Encyclopedia, bought from a door-to-door salesman (to educate, by osmosis, me and my brother); and a lot of paperback Dick Francis racing thrillers. But, right beside the encyclopedia (where the Bible would have been, a generation earlier), there was one anomalous, thick, squat, hardback novel.
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.