Review of Books


Joyce’s Legacy

    Colm Herron’s second novel, Further Adventures of James Joyce, is an extremely ambitious work. Herron, who lives in Derry, takes his readers back to the tense and volatile Derry of the late 1980s, where Myles Corrigan and Conn Doherty spend much of their time drinking and talking in a local haunt, The Drunken Dog. In the midst of the palpable grief, depression, violence, and political and religious unrest (which Herron powerfully yet subtly conveys) the book takes many meta-fictional turns. Myles often interrupts Herron’s narration as the author and his character bicker about narrative decisions. Three-quarters of the way through the book, James Joyce talks with Myles from beyond the grave and enlists his help in transcribing his last masterpiece. But in order for their plan to succeed, Myles must take over the writing of Further Adventures since Herron is suffering from incurable writer’s block and is contemplating killing off his protagonist in what Joyce and Myles deem to be all too neat an ending.  
    Though I thoroughly enjoyed his writing, I was left wishing Herron hadn’t given up and let his character – who is a much more pretentious and self-involved writer – take over. Still, Herron’s wit is clear throughout and I am excited to see what he writes next. 
Sheila Langan
(249 pages / Dakota / $10.42) 

The ABCs of Joyce

    For readers weary of the more tedious notes for and companions to James Joyce’s Ulysses, Julian Rios’ novel The House of Ulysses presents a new and exciting option. Rios, one of Spain’s foremost post-modernist writers, has approached Joyce’s work with insight, elegance and a very necessary sense of humor.
    The book takes place in the fictional Ulysses Museum, where the visitors/readers are guided through eighteen rooms that correspond with the eighteen chapters of Ulysses. A cicerone (an old term for guide) is joined by Professor Ludwig Jones, a seasoned Joyce scholar, and three critics called A, B and C, each of whom have differing opinions concerning the text. In a clever reinterpretation of Joyce’s “man in the macintosh,” a mysterious man with a Mac computer lurks in the background and presents the traditional breakdown of each chapter’s title, setting, time, symbol, etc. As they enter each room, the members of the group first discuss and then re-tell the events and meanings of each chapter.   
    Though the book is not explicitly intended to serve as a guide to Ulysses, it seems unlikely that anyone unacquainted with Dublin on June 16, 1904 would have the patience to follow the meandering tour, which frequently draws from and sometimes parodies the various styles Joyce employed. But for anyone trying to work their way through or revisit Joyce’s work, The House of Ulysses is an engaging resource and a brilliant testament to the wonderful confusion and debate that Ulysses so frequently inspires. 
Sheila Langan
(280 pages / Dalkey Archive Press / $14.95)

The Room

    Dublin-born playwright, literary historian and novelist Emma Donoghue has been critically lauded for her latest novel, Room, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and an international bestseller. The attention she’s received for this unique, disturbing and awe-filled work is well deserved. Five-year-old Jack, who lives in the eleven-by-eleven-foot space that is the title’s namesake with his Ma, narrates Room with a voice that is as compelling as it is convincing. Room contains Jack’s entire world – the stain on the Rug where he was born, the Bed where he and Ma sleep, the Wardrobe where she shuts him in safely every night in preparation for the visits of Old Nick, and the TV that provides a confusing perspective of a world outside where the ten o’clock news is as much a fantasy as SpongeBob. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the space of Jack’s whole life and comfort is Ma’s prison, and her desperation to escape will require both of them to stretch the limits of their stifled imaginations. While a literal and thrilling story in its own right, Room also becomes a brilliant allegory for all parent-child relationships: for a small child, his mother can often feel like his entire world, while her child’s love both traps her and gives her very existence meaning. The inevitable opening up of the rest of the world is differently wondrous and traumatic for both of them.        The space of Room emphasizes the closed-circuit intimacy of the mother-child connection, as well as the claustrophobia and incredible creativity and love therein. Look for an interview with Emma Donoghue in an upcoming issue of Irish America.
Kara Rota
(336 pages / Little, Brown andCompany / $24.99)