Finnegans What? Finnegans Wake – A Guide By An Idiot

I Read Finnegans Wake So You Don’t Have To!

But, let me tell you now, this is no insightful academic assessment of what is perhaps the most perplexing, ambiguous and downright impenetrable work of literature known to man. One summer a couple of years ago, in-between writing my own novels of dubious quality, I fancied a bit of a literary challenge. I had participated in Bloomsday – an annual celebration of James Joyce’s other famed work, Ulysses – a few times and it struck me that maybe it was time to tackle the mighty Finnegans Wake. The idea of attempting an idiots guide (or, more appropriately, a guide by an idiot) came about after discussing my attempts at comprehension with friends.

And so this, Finnegans What?, a plaintive effort to decipher the indecipherable, was born. My method was a to read a chapter and then make notes about what I thought might be happening. These were originally posted weekly on my blog for the benefit of curious readers. So what we have here is a chapter-by-chapter explanation, as I read each in turn. This is my interpretation and musings on Joyce’s eponymous work, rather than any kind of instructional companion or serious analysis. Goodness knows, I’m not capable of that kind of high-minded literary endeavour. I’m just an ordinary person, reading Finnegans Wake.

And this is what I came up with.


Finnegans What? A Guide By An Idiot

Available now on Amazon

115 thoughts on “Finnegans What? Finnegans Wake – A Guide By An Idiot

  1. John Joyce (in relation) April 21, 2019 — 4:20 pm

    Thanks for reading FW on behalf of those
    who haven’t got to it. I might give it a go.
    I noticed from the photos that you
    had a nice edition – which one was it?

    1. It was my pleasure… in many ways. In other ways, it was quite an ordeal! But what a literary experience. One day I shall read it again, I’m sure. Off the top of my head I cannot remember which edition it was, it was the first one I found on Amazon, to be honest. Thank you for your comment, John.

    2. You obviously kept at it. That’s something I’ve not managed. Joyce commented somewhere that ‘the sentimentalist is he who would enjoy without incurring the immense debtorship for a thing done’. So well done!

    3. I kept at it, although I’m not sure my interpretations are of much use to the serious Joyce scholar! But I would heartily recommend giving it a go. There are plenty of rude bits and lots of it is genuinely funny.

    4. I’ve always had an interest in Joyce as an amateur (and a Dubliner) and have been somewhat repulsed by the book whenever I’ve tried to get into it but without getting rid of the desire to somehow fathom it. This feeling in the face of it has been increased by occasions where I’ve visited an FW reading group and the (serious) academics present have been pretty much as flummoxed as to what was going on in any particular passage as anyone else. So maybe aside from giving up altogether or getting too bogged down in chasing references it makes sense to dive in as you did and get what you can from it.

    5. That’s the thing, no one really knows what’s going on, so your guess is as good as anyone’s! My one tip would be to read it out loud, as a child would read. It gives a sense of rhythm and feeling, if not understanding. Good luck!

    6. I notice there is a project where people have
      read FW with music or musical accompaniment,
      the little of it I’ve listened to worked well. It’s called ‘Waywords and Meansigns’. Perhaps one way in?

    7. Could well be! I just love how such an obscure work has inspired so much interest and creativity. No doubt Joyce’s aim. Art creating art. Much of the book could be described as musical, certainly. It is so many things. Not everyone’s cup of tea, granted, but that’s the way of all the best stuff, I reckon.

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