James Joyce, Dubliners Unabridged (Caedmon Audio, HarperCollins, 2000)
This collection of stories by James Joyce is a listener's delight. Dubliners is a series of fifteen vignettes written by one of the preeminent creators of the modern style in English language literature. The stories provide windows onto the author's world; Ireland at the end of the Victorian era during the tumultuous early period of home rule. In Joyce's stories; however, those issues of politics and religion that dominate historical accounts of this time are just grace notes for these character studies. Each story offers a glimpse, for a moment or two, into the lives of various, completely believable, citizens of Dublin.
The readers are a Who's Who of Irish stage and screen performers. The credits, in order of appearance list: Frank McCourt, Patrick McCabe, Colm Meaney, Dearbhla Molloy, Dan O'Herlihy, Malachy McCourt, Donal Donnelly, Brendan Coyle, Jim Norton, Sorcha Cusack, Ciaran Hinds, T.P. McKenna, Fionnula Flanagan, Charles Keating, and Stephen Rea. Each brings a pitch perfect tone to their story.
Being cassettes, and with individual stories ranging from under twenty minutes to over an hour, this boxed set makes an excellent driving companion for anyone with a tape player in their car. As a safety caution, this is only recommended for those among you who can resist the urge to close your eyes to better visualize the lively pubs, drab boarding rooms and seaside quays in which the stories are set and all the characters, at once unique and universal, that inhabit Joyce's Dublin.
Listening to a good story is a primal pleasure. Joyce combines plain spoken naturalness with literary erudition in such a beautiful way that I find myself wondering which of today's authors might fare so well being read aloud. When reading contemporary authors one can often imagine a film or television adaptation, but rarely is one inspired to read passages aloud to others.
It is difficult today to appreciate the paintings of Monet as being radical, as they were seen at the time of their creation; so, too, it is difficult to keep in mind that Joyce was among the originators of the modern voice in literature. The structure and content of the Dubliner stories, with their "slice of life" approach and often lack of overt dramatic conflict and resolution, are today thoroughly familiar forms and devices, but were part of the explorations engaged in by Joyce and his contemporaries that transformed our literary tradition.
As with a Monet painting, understanding the historic context and innovative nature of Joyce's work may add to one's appreciation; it does not, however, change the fundamental, visceral, response. One will either listen to these stories and be transported, entertained and perhaps drawn to read them or not. Although I cannot imagine anyone for whom English is their native tongue who would not be captivated by Joyce's Dubliners, especially in Caedmon Audio's straightforward and well produced audio book version.