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“Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’”

 

Margot Norris
296 pages, $49.95 cloth

Because the stories in James Joyce’s “Dubliners” seem to function as models of fiction, they are able to stand in for fiction in general in their ability to make the operation of texts explicit and visible.

Joyce’s stories do this by provoking skepticism in the face of their storytelling. Their narrative unreliabilities—produced by strange gaps, omitted scenes, and misleading narrative prompts—arouse suspicion and oblige the reader to distrust how and why the story is told. As a result, it becomes necessary to look into what is concealed, omitted, or left unspoken, a quest that often produces interpretations in conflict with what we learn from the narrative surface about characters and events.

Margot Norris’s strategy in her analysis of each of the stories in “Dubliners” is to refuse to take the narrative voice for granted and to assume that every authorial decision to include or exclude, or to represent in a particular way, may be read as motivated. “Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’” examines the text for counterindictions and draws on the social context of the writing in order to offer readings from diverse theoretical perspectives.

“Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’” devotes a chapter to each of the 15 stories in “Dubliners” and shows how each confronts the reader with an interpretive challenge and an intellectual adventure. Its readings of “An Encounter,” “Two Gallants,” “A Painful Case,” “A Mother,” “The Boarding House,” and “Grace” reconceive the stories in wholly novel ways—ways that reveal Joyce’s writing to be even more brilliant, more exciting, and more seriously attuned to moral and political issues than we had thought.

Norris is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine.

—University of Pennsylvania Press

Originally published on September 18, 2003