A graphic biography of the literary master.
Though “breezy” isn’t a term generally associated with the author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, artist Zapico (Café Budapest, 2008, etc.) remains true to the life and spirit of the Irish master while appealing to readers who might not have the patience for either Joyce’s novels or a standard, more exhaustive biography. There is far more text here than in most graphic narratives, beginning with the Joyce generations prior to the birth of James—or “Jim” as he’s frequently called in these pages—and ending with his death and literary legacy. Zapico shows how Joyce’s mother’s religiosity and his father’s alcoholism and uncertain finances produced a tension in the schoolboy, who was advised to be a priest and was considered “clearly on his way to sainthood.” However, he rejected his religion and became something of a vagabond in exile, accepting random teaching assignments and drinking and whoring his way through his young adulthood, all the while writing the early work that would have such trouble getting published. Much of the narrative concerns his love-at-first-sight relationship with Nora, on whom he depended but whom he also resisted as she bore him children and constrained his tendencies toward dissolution. His prose became more radical, and perhaps even more Irish, the farther he strayed from Ireland and the longer he stayed away. His homeland and its characters lived within him. “Writing from a distance, Joyce always dealt with the subject of Ireland,” writes Zapico. Ulysses would mark his turning point, his most ambitious and audacious work at the time, one that would be banned in the States as immoral yet ultimately became a sensation when published. “While the effect of Ulysses on the reader is rather sickening,” said the judge, “it would be unfair to call it ‘aphrodisiac.’ ” Then came another major leap, with Finnegans Wake raising the bar even higher before Joyce’s premature death.
A solid account of the development of a writer not easy to encapsulate.