The Week In Radio: Triumphant tour makes Ulysses bloom once more

 

Like many others before me, I attempted Ulysses in my late teens. I managed to read the whole of the spine before uttering an exhausted "Sod this" and turning my attention to what I felt was a more deserving literary cause: Jilly Cooper's Riders. It was either that or inject caffeine directly into my eyeballs. Apparently, I'm in good company: on attempting Ulysses, Katherine Mansfield is supposed to have said: "This is obviously the way of the future. Thank God I'm dying of tuberculosis."

Ulysses is the kind of book that certain scholarly types pretend to enjoy but most approach with the enthusiasm of a dentophobic going in for a root canal. So you had to hand it to Radio 4 for refusing to tread the populist path and broadcasting an adaptation, courtesy of Robin Brooks, in honour of Bloomsday. Over five and a half hours! On a Saturday! Until midnight! Had they lost their minds?

It was left up to us to decide how closely we should follow the customs of Bloomsday, during which hardcore Dubliners trace the progress of Joyce's protagonist Leopold Bloom through the city streets, while getting joyously hammered. True Joyce zealots, we were told by Mark Lawson, who was in Dublin doing the introductions in a yellow dressing gown, would have been up at dawn frying famous Bloomsday breakfasts of kidneys with "a fine tang of faintly scented urine."

So what of the adaptation? At the start it was meted out in hesitant 10-minute slots shoehorned in the middle of the regular weekend programmes, perhaps to allow us to pretend it was a long-running serial and switch off without shame. Thus, having been introduced to Stephen Dedalus (Andrew Scott, last seen scaring the bejesus out of us as Sherlock's nemesis Moriarty) looking mournfully out on the Martello tower at 9am, it was another hour and a half, just as many listeners were doubtless enjoying their Saturday brunch, before we were treated to the unmistakable sound of Henry Goodman's Bloom emptying his bowels ("uh uhmmmrrrgh" – plop!).

Ultimately, this curious apportioning of excerpts was unwise. Along with conveying a sense of uncertainty on the part of schedulers, it rendered the dramatisation of an already complicated novel unnecessarily disjointed. In all other respects, however, Radio 4's Ulysses was a triumph. Like Shakespeare read out loud, everything fell into place. We saw the whole Bloom – as cuckolded husband, grieving son, devastated father, dirty old man, regular human being racing through a panoply of moods and personas in the space of a day.

For the Joyce purists and the keepers of the estate, humourlessly fretting about what the old man would have thought, the folds in the narrative will probably have jarred. This was, of course, a heavily abridged version, which certainly made it less bold than the Irish radio station RTE's untampered-with 1982 version that ran at an epic 29-and-a-half hours. But who the hell wants to sit through that?

It's worth remembering that Joyce's detractors – and even some of his less hard-line fans – have long claimed that what Ulysses lacked was a decent editor. Here was the BBC finally doing the job and saving us a good 10 hours of stream-of-consciousness mumbling.

From a rigorous survey conducted among friends and family I've deduced that the average Ulysses reader rarely gets beyond page 50, which admittedly is more than I managed (though I'm proud to reveal that I read every page of Riders). At least now we can all say that we got to the end.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea