‘The Dead’ by James Joyce

Let this personal anthology be taken as proof that there are far too many heart-horrifyingly good short story writers out there. In a dozen stories, you can, of course, only scrape the surface; dip a foot, as it were, amid a dozen specimens of the species. Lord knows, and now you know, too, that some extraordinary things have slipped by me. I would name all the wonders if I could: William Maxwell, Mavis Gallant, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Anne Enright, Helen Simpson’s ‘Up at a Villa’ and… all that rest. For now, though, the end must be the incontrovertible end to Dubliners by James Joyce. Not only because of the story, but because, a couple of years ago, I heard the actor Aidan Gillen read the story in the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, attached to Shakespeare’s Globe, and it was then that the wonder of thing struck me anew. Some stories are glimpses. ‘The Dead’ is not, of course. Mr Gillen made it mesmerising. The story and the performance combined perfectly. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.

From Dubliners. Available to read here

‘The Dead’ by James Joyce

Saying that this story is your favourite ever is a bit like saying the Mona Lisa is your favourite painting or Chanel No. 5 your favourite perfume, but who cares. The final story in my collection, Smoked Meat, is a homage to ‘The Dead’. The last lines are, for me, the most beautiful ever written in literature: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead”.

From Dubliners (first published 1914; it can be read here)