As staggering as Ulysses is, for me, this is Joyce’s masterpiece. The reason I include Dubliners is that it seems to age as you do. Somehow it’s not the same book I read as a teenager. Each time I return to it, a different story will come to the fore, resonating with whatever I’ve been going through. I feel like, at different times, I have been some of these characters, which is not very edifying. It’s quite a haunting experience at times but I keep coming back because it’s as brutally honest and unforgiving as a mirror.
In recent years, I’ve been really blown away by Wendy Erskine’s short stories. She’s a very different writer to Joyce (her writing is hilarious for one thing) but they share a number of traits – she has an incredible ear for language and eye for revelatory details, what would be called epiphanies I guess in Joyce’s case, and an unsentimental quality, which I think is quite radical these days. I spend a lot of time reading writers like Borges and Calvino, getting lost in labyrinths and bestiaries or whatever, and sometimes it’s cleansing to return to a world, exposed with all its flaws, that is so vividly recognisable and inhabitable. Dubliners is over a hundred years old but it’s as relevant today or tomorrow as it was then. Sometimes there is a great kindness in looking in an unflinching way at how life is actually lived, and Dubliners does that from a multitude of angles. As with Erskine’s work, there is a very distinct vernacular but also an acute awareness of the frailties, contradictions and complexities of human beings that will always be prescient.
First published by Grant Richards, 1914. Available in multiple print editions, also to read online at Project Gutenberg here