I also wanted to say that To the Lighthouse
isn't at all difficult in terms of meaning and I love the way V. Woolf writes stylistically.
What I find most tedious are books without any music in the style, and Woolf and Joyce were both musicians.
Instead of endlessly asserting that only pompous asses could possibly like [Insert name of book by Joyce, Woolf, etc.], why not try this little exercise in empathy? If you're a fan of Game of Thrones
, then substitute the title of any book by George R. R. Martin for the one you're criticizing and imagine crowds of people calling you a vast inflated rectum of self-importance. Consider how it feels to be vilified in the abstract simply because you enjoy reading a work of fiction.
None of the other books cited in the OP are as difficult as Finnegan's Wake
. People who have trouble with FW
should try the earlier versions in Pynch's epub edition of the Collected Works (available on this very site for free)
A friend of mine even insists that the earlier versions of FW
are better. In his view, Joyce's overarching ambition left him nothing to do after writing his last novel than to squander his remaining days packing in more unnecessary layers. To quote the great Ron Kolm (after a few drinks), "He couldn't exactly follow that
up with a cookbook."
Asserting that any
of the layers in Joyce are unnecessary is a hard sell to those who've spent time decoding them, but here's my question: How many writers genuinely picked up where Joyce left off in FW
, let alone, did something memorable with the exercise? You can think of writers who were influenced by Joyce (Thomas, Levertov and O'Brien, for example), but how many went as far as or further than he did? And beyond the difficulty of FW
, how many of us thought we'd ever reach a single reader if we tried to imitate it?
Far more people have imitated Joyce's great student, Samuel Beckett (who is also supposed to be difficult but isn't). Despite my admiration for late Joyce and belief in studying him, the better models have always seemed to me to be Bernhard and late Beckett for music, Nabokov for style, precision and structure, and Borges for readable compression. That's not counting earlier Joyce, however, which every student ought to try to study (Portrait, Dubliners, etc.).
Borges: Now there's a supposedly difficult writer who loved genre fiction and tried his best never to bore anyone
In terms of texture, Gertrude Stein can be difficult semantically but has the syntax and diction of a fractured nursery rhyme. Another book I might add to the difficult list is Derrida's Glas
(here's a page from the English translation
), which isn't terribly hard to follow in terms of the actual writing, but imitates the anarchic layout which any page of text had for Derrida himself. The author, you see, was severely dyslexic.