The Scottish born evangelist John Alexander Dowie is featured in four chapters of Ulysses. Dowie believed he was the third incarnation of the prophet Elijah, following Elijah himself and John the Baptist. He was fond of wearing Elijah-like clothing quite often, especially when he was touring the world from “Frisco beach to Vladivostok” to raise funds for his holy city of Zion, situated just north of Chicago in the lovely state of Illinois. The “throwaway” of a paper flyer announcing Dowie’s upcoming meeting in Dublin plays a major role in the book’s narrative.
The James Joyce Ulysses class that I will be teaching for ten weekly sessions at the Oakton College Emeritus program begins next Tuesday morning. I will be posting brief items of interest from the book on this blog starting today, until the class ends on December 1. These posts will be called Ulysses Titbits. Why Titbits? Well as we first encounter Leopold Bloom on the morning of June 16, 1904 home, at 7 Eccles Street, we learned that “he liked to read at stool.” Newspapers especially. And on that particular day, at stool, he happened to be reading, and later utilizing, a paper named Titbits.
The six books on the Man Booker Prize 2015 shortlist have just been announced. They are:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
I have read four of these, not getting to the McCarthy and Sahota books as yet. Of the four that I read thus far, clearly the best book is A Brief History of Seven Killings. It is a modern epic, seven hundred pages or so, chronicling the turbulent political and social scene of Jamaica in the first two decades of its independence. James writes with passion and power, and this novel rises to realm of great literature.
Yanagihira’s A Little Life, a story of four friends, set in New York City, almost makes it to that realm, but not quite. Of about equal length as A Brief History of Seven Killings, her book lacks the drive and energy that is so pervasive in the James novel. Both are agonizing and gripping works, with memorable characterization, but the pace and consistency of A Little Life is somewhat off.
The Fishermen is an outstanding debut novel by Obioma. A highly compelling story, taking place in a small Nigerian town, the author narrates a family history, which is seemingly doomed from the book’s onset. It may be the sleeper on this year’s shortlist.
Although the judges for the Man Booker Prize are to consider the book, rather than the author, in making their decisions, one has the feeling that A Spool of Blue Thread is on the 2015 shortlist as an honor to Tyler’s body of work, rather than the particular merits of this particular novel. Typically Tyleresque, with quirky Baltimore citizenry, it is a nice story, but hardly worthy to be considered for the Man Booker.