A nation divided by the those who have and haven't read it


It is Bloomsday. So have you read any good books lately? asks Michael Parsons.

JEFFREY ARCHER recently told Marian Finucane on RTÉ Radio 1 that while in prison for two years he had read "all of Dickens and all of Shakespeare". But then made this admission: "I have to confess that I failed to finish Ulysses. I just couldn't do it."

There are limits - even for a condemned man. But the English novelist and former Tory politician is not alone. Admit it - how far did you get?

"Introibo ad altare Dei".


You mean to say you didn't even get that far? For crying out loud - that's only the third sentence.

Ah, but surely you recognise these words: "Stately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed."


You haven't even read the opening sentence? Of the greatest load of twaddle ever, eh sorry, most famous Irish book (Kells not excepted) of all time? The greatest novel ever written? The proudest achievement in the long and glorious annals of Irish literature? No one seems to have read it.

Ask people about it and they'll say: "It's supposed to be very hard to read" or "I must get around to it when I've finished the new Cecelia Ahern"; or "I'm hoping to read it during the summer holidays" or "Isn't it still banned?".

"By yer man James Joyce isn't it?" About a fellow called Leopold Bloom it all takes place on the June 16th in the year of Our Lord 1904 called Bloomsday after and his wife Molly Bloom or was it Nora Barnacle unusual name wonder where she was from you never know where people wash up Trieste wasn't it or Zurich he died in did you see the ferry company is using him in those new ads and there's a pub in Paris named after him Glory be to God €8 for a pint of Guinness they charged and who does he think he is David Norris never stops he'd give you a pain in the how come he's in the Senate can't open the paper without seeing him dressed like an Edwardian dandy there he is now crossing O'Connell Bridge over Anna Livia flowing down to scrotumtightening sea a puffball of smoke plumed up from the parapet will you look at the cut of him wonder where he got that straw boater you'd think he was off to the Henley regatta probably on his way up to Trinity he should stop on the way and buy a bar of lemon soap wash his mouth out Darling he called one of the Fianna Fáil senators the other week Jim Walsh it was must have got the shock of his life the Upper House has gone to blazes darling did you ever hear the like in all your born days isn't it a pity he didn't say it to Eoghan Harris ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls didn't he do an awful lot of huffing and puffing defending Bertie who had a point about the tribunal being based on some old law dating back to the rule of perfidious Albion another thing to add to the list of British Beatitudes beer, beef, business, bibles, bulldogs, battleships, buggery and bishops D'Olier Street looking scruffy wouldn't you miss The Irish Timesclock best paper by long chalks for a small ad on up to Grafton street gay with housed awnings isn't it hard to get used to Brown Thomas being on the other side of the street lovely windows cascades of ribbons flimsy China silks a tilted urn poured from its mouth a flood of bloodhued poplin oh those were the days my friends now it's all Your MS two-seventy for a cup of black coffee in The Bailey talk about the rip-off Republic good man yerself Eddie Hobbs wonder will Cowen be any good an Offaly rover he has a lot of experience still look what's happening to Gordon Brown and won't the recession be a right shock for the jeunesse dorée tighten your Gucci belts as Charlie would have put it oh they'll have their wings clipped all right Davy Byrne's looks very busy they must get sick and tired of people coming in looking for a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich pungent mustard the feety savour of green cheese and a glass of Burgundy there was an Italian in there last week and the Lithuanian barman didn't have a clue what the fellow was on about Vilnius he said isn't that in the Baltics fancy wanting to come here wouldn't you think they'd prefer somewhere warm glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy sun's heat it is there's that TD from Tipperary Mr Mansergh Minister for the Arts if you don't mind like the cat who got the cream Martin Cullen must be bucking blue mouldy for want of that pint can you give us a good one for the Gold Cup he must know a thing or two living near Coolmore never put anything on a horse he says ruined many a man the same horses moral pub isn't it great the way Fianna Fáil is such a broad church all the same where were we at all at all better not forget the shopping will you look at the time and she said will you get kidneys and a nice bit of liver she said will you get those for me heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.