Reviews: Finnegans Wake

"Final boss" of the video game that is literature— and so worth it

I started reading Joyce's bibliography earlier this year. Each book got more engaging than the last, seeming to culminate with Ulysses— utter beauty, that was. But throughout the books, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that even Ulysses was building up to something. Then I remembered I had one last Joyce book on my bookshelf: His last statement to the world, a product of seventeen years of depression and despair— Finnegans Wake.

The Wake is a mirror into yourself, and a psychopomp— a guide to your own subconscious. It's also the story of HCE, a Chapelizod pub owner, and how his family fell apart and how they're trying so hard to stick together. There was once a great Fall. HCE did something, something forbidden (or maybe he just desired it?) in Phoenix Park with his daughter Issy. Or was the Fall related to his marriage with ALP? It's so many things. The Wake is also the story of history, Irish history and by extension world history, of oppression and rebellion, of violence and rape. It's also the story of language, of so many languages, how they work and how they don't and how they affect our lives. It's also the story of a thousand and one stories, "all told, the same." Nature and humanity, our relationship to the world and to each other.

Months have passed. I've been reading every day, sometimes reading a paragraph, sometimes reading multiple chapters, always going back and reading chapters and passages over and over again. I own two copies of the book now, one paperback and based on the first edition, one hardback and is the recent Revised edition. I cross-check them in reading. I google words, languages, mythology, history, whatever the book brings up. I didn't think I'd get this obsessed. I genuinely didn't. Books have made me cry and sparked serious introspection before, but nothing has done what this is doing. It's bringing up every thought in my mind, every base desire and carnal fear and want and memory and attraction and hatred, vile putrid violent hatred, and it's taking them from me and making me read all my own emotions.

Above all, the Wake requires patience. Lots of patience. It's not for everyone. But its language, its characters (archetypes?), its philosophy hidden behind every single freaking word, it will change your life. The book will make sense.