Celebrating Bloomsday, With James Joyce (and Other Irish Writers)
Readers picked up on the not-so-subtle nod to James Joyce’s “Ulysses” at the end of my June “Drink” column. Hey, it was hard to resist: for those who love the book, any walk around Dublin in some way evokes the company of Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus and others. It seems you can never get far without passing a landmark that appears in the novel.
For example, in Dublin last month, I stayed for a few days with a friend who lives about a block away from the now-defunct Ormond Hotel. The hotel’s restaurant was the location for much of the “Sirens” episode of the novel.
Tomorrow, June 16, is Bloomsday, the day on which the action in “Ulysses” transpires, observed by Joyce fans the world over. In New York, Symphony Space will stage its 31st annual “Bloomsday on Broadway,” a program of live readings from the novel and music. And this year, as it happens, the focus is on “Sirens.” The event will conclude with the actress Fionnula Flanagan reading Molly Bloom’s celebrated soliloquy, with which the book ends, unabridged and uncensored. (And if you can’t make it to the Upper West Side, the whole thing will be streamed, live, on the Symphony Space Web site).
I’ll take some time out on Bloomsday to listen and to dip into my favorite sections of “Ulysses” (including “Cyclops,” set in Barney Kiernan’s Pub). But it’s also a fine occasion to explore the contemporary Irish fiction landscape, including these recent debut novels:
- In March, Pete Hamill gave Kevin Barry’s “City of Bohane” a rave in The Sunday Book Review, calling it “a roaring journey.”
- Kathleen MacMahon’s smart, timely love story, “This Is How It Ends,” made news prepublication with a £600,000 advance. (MacMahon is a granddaughter of the short-story writer Mary Lavin).
- Colum McCann (winner of the 2009 National Book Award for “Let the Great World Spin”) said that Belinda McKeon’s “Solace” is “elegant, consuming and richly inspired.”
As for thematic drinks — if you’re into that sort of thing — the obvious choices would be stout or whiskey, which turn up throughout “Ulysses.” But so do many other beverages: There’s porter, gin, brandy, rum and even absinthe. Bloom himself seems to favor wine and cider, and even though cider didn’t treat him too well, I suspect it’s just what I’ll want to drink if it turns out to be a warm and sunny Bloomsday.
How will you celebrate Bloomsday? What will you drink? And who are your favorite Irish writers, past and present?