Ulysses one of literature's greatest joys

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 September, 1998, 12:00am

I feel compelled to respond to Stephen McCarty's unfavorable review of Ulysses in The Review ('Turgid work that baffles readers', South China Morning Post, September 19).

Not that I worry whether James Joyce's reputation can withstand this onslaught; it is more the concern that McCarty's misrepresentations may discourage readers from enjoying a work which is touching, entertaining and one of the greatest joys which reading has to offer.

One does not pick up Ulysses and start reading it as one might The Bridges of Madison County or something by Jeffrey Archer or Harold Robbins.

Ulysses is a maze; it requires a guide.

Two of the best are Richard Ellman's biography and Anthony Burgess' Rejoyce, both entertaining in their own right.

I came to Joyce comparatively late and read up before tackling his masterpiece.

I was encouraged by a comment from writer S J Perelman that Ulysses is a very funny book. It is indeed often hilarious.

Joyce is a great writer because of his balance of literary skill, compassion, basic humanity and spirited playfulness.

The two brief quotations McCarty cites as 'tedious' or 'muddled, pseudo-intellectual pedantry' give any lover of Joyce the thrill of remembering passages in the novel as great as the pleasure of hearing snatches of well-loved music.

McCarty goes on with terms like 'measured incoherence', 'willful obscurity', 'Joyce, the proto-punk of literature', 'pointless, arcane and hollow', and 'compulsive disorder'.

He is, of course, wrong at the top of his voice.

It reminds one of the story of a pair of visitors touring the galleries of the Louvre, expressing disapproval of various paintings until one of the guards said in exasperation, 'Messieurs, these works are not here to be judged. You are.' HENRY STEINER Mid-Levels