James Joyce - A Life

James Joyce - A Life

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Susan's Review

You don’t have to be a fan of James Joyce’s fiction, or even to have read it, to enjoy Gabrielle Carey’s biography. Unlike other weighty biographies of this towering literary figure, Carey’s book is a mere 130 pages long and idiosyncratic in its approach. While it remains chronological, it is told in fragments that gradually reveal the ‘real life’ of James Joyce, from his precocious youth and unbridled ambition to his destructive alcoholism, failing eyesight, despair over the mental decline of his beloved daughter Lucia, repeated censorship of his work, and critical denunciation of his final novel Finnegan’s Wake.

In keeping with Joyce’s belief that people’s failings are the essence of life and literature, Carey’s book is an engrossing portrait of a deeply flawed man that never lapses into either naïve adulation or moral censure. It’s extensively researched but highly readable; a slim volume that’s resonant with detail about Joyce’s outer and inner worlds.

The words of the book’s title James Joyce: a real life is split into pieces on the front cover, in recognition of Joyce’s enduring fascination with word play. It also testifies to the reality of his divided self: a man who flouted society’s moral codes while craving public recognition. A father who took great pride in his daughter’s talents as a dancer but who jealously persuaded her to give up her career. An increasingly anguished man who wrote the comic masterpieces Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake. As Joyce wrote in Ulysses: “He laughed to free his mind from his mind’s bondage.”  

Publisher’s Review 

If you know nothing about James Joyce but would like to - without the bother of reading him - this is the book for you. If you know a little about James Joyce and would like to know more but not too much, this is the book for you. And if you are a die-hard Joycean who has spent your life puzzling over his work but know nothing about his life, this is also the book for you.