If I had to use 2 words to describe James Joyce's Ulysses it would be clever and annoying. Joyce is clearly a talented writer. His mastery of words and characters puts him in the upper echelon of writers. I don't know if he was bored with the every day task of sitting down and writing a good novel, but Ulysses seems like an odd conglameration of writing styles created with the intention of making it unreadable to all but the an elite group of English majors. There is one episode which describes a woman who has been in labor for over 2 days. That is painful enough to read about, but the episode is written comparing the gestation of a human fetus with the development of the English language. Huh? The chapter starts in Old English (think of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales) and then gradually develops into a more modern and readable form. Was there a purpose to this? Not sure, but it certainly made reading that chapter a challenge! Another episode is written in the form of a catechism exercise. There are a set of questions followed by answers. So rather than hearing directly what happens in the story, we are gradually able to piece together the plot by hearing a set of questions and answers.
But, there were some chapters that were beautifully written (like Molly's soliloquoy!) I can definitely understand the appeal that this book has over people who are absolute zealots about this book. I did listen to the Teaching Company's course, Joyce's Ulysses by Professor Heffernan as I read this book. The course is excellent! It definitely gave me a perspective and background info that I would never have understood reading this book on my own. Overall, I'm glad I finished it - not sure if I'll ever do something like this again though! And not sure what to rate this book... For overall readability or story telling, I would say 1 star at best. But for sheer chutzpah or creativity, I might even say 5 stars. Definitely unforgettable.