on reading Finnegans Wake

From the Guardian….

I’ve finally got round to Finnegans Wake. Here’s how you read Finnegans Wake: you get a good guide book. You don’t expect to read it like an ordinary novel any more than you would complain that Picasso’s Weeping Woman hasn’t got her face on right. You take it slow, keep a sense of fun and don’t care about not understanding everything. Read aloud. Listen to its rhythms because it’s music as well as prose. Linger over sentences that are like holograms. Find yourself mentally using Wake words such as “teetotalitarianism” and “chaosmos”. Like Shakespeare and the Bible, the Wake will begin to throw up the right words for everything. At last something exquisite and strange begins to happen. You feel you’ve wandered into the collective unconscious. Chiming themes emerge, running through all history and experience, and underneath it all, a family lives out a small tragicomic drama that is the same human drama that has been acted and re-enacted since time began.

The Wake invokes death and the dying of the light with some of the most sublime poetry in the English language. It is almost unbelievable, a madly audacious and impossible work, and I can understand why some people hate it. But for me it’s like falling in love with reading all over again.

Carol Birch will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Wednesday 24 August.


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