Such a loon werraback­woods

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Don An­der­son

THIS re­vised edi­tion of Fin­negans Wake, the first since its pub­li­ca­tion in 1939 and which con­tains no fewer than 9000 ‘‘ mi­nor but cru­cial’’ amend­ments and cor­rec­tions, is ‘‘ a thing of beauty and a joy for­ever’’. Or should I say ‘‘ a Joyce for­ever’’? I should not, as Fin­negans Wake ad­vises us to ‘‘ Shun the Pun­man’’, it­self a pun on one of its cen­tral char­ac­ters, Shaun the Pen­man.

The year 1939 was in­deed an annus mirabilis, see­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of two Ir­ish mas­ter­pieces, Fin­negans Wake and Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, the out­break of World War II and the birth of your hum­ble re­viewer. Truly a four-leaf clover.

Sa­muel Beck­ett in­sisted James Joyce’s ‘‘ writ­ing is not about some­thing; it is that some­thing it­self’’. That ad­ju­ra­tion not­with­stand­ing, those who want some idea of what Fin­negans Wake is about might go to The Cam­bridge Guide to Lit­er­a­ture in English (though whether Joyce’s book is in English is open to de­bate) and read: Puns, ver­bal com­pounds, and for­eign words are com­bined with al­lu­sions from ev­ery con­ceiv­able source to cre­ate an ob­scure and densely struc­tured text. Its aim is to re­late the min­i­mal cen­tral story to a much wider his­tor­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, re­li­gious and artis­tic cos­mol­ogy, a pro­ce­dure that has been likened to that of medieval al­le­gory. On a lit­eral level, the novel presents the dreams of Humphrey Chim­p­den Ear­wicker (a Dublin tav­ern­keeper) and his fam­ily (wife Anna, their sons Shem and Shaun, and daugh­ter Is­abel) as they lie asleep through one night. The ti­tle is it­self a com­pound of Finn MaCool, the Ir­ish folk hero who is sup­posed to re­turn to life at some fu­ture

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