James Joyce was going to give us back our precious English language one day, but he died, unfortunately, and so his reputation as an obscurist, overtly difficult, almost humanity hating [thanks Henry Miller, for that one], writer was cemented. For me, one of the prevailing problems with Joyce is other people’s perceptions of him, rather than the work he actually produced. There seems to be, increasingly, two types of Joyce reader amongst the general public: there are those who want to convince us they exited the womb with a copy of Ulysses in hand, read and understood [every single word, sir!] while entombed in their mother’s bellies and those who read him because they think they have to [self flagellation isn’t usually an enjoyable experience]. These two groups, then, shout the loudest and sometimes succeed in putting other people off.
My advice, for what it is worth [which is probably very little] is to try and approach him, and his work, with an open mind, if you can. I am not saying he wasn’t sometimes a contrary ol’ sob, but he did [and here’s the important bit] write some of the warmest, most beautiful, enlightening, and funny prose one is ever likely to encounter. Joyce was, above all, a humanist [cobblers to you Miller]; he was an anti-dramatist; he wanted to put every aspect of human existence on the page, including the mundane and the indecent, but, luckily for us, he wrapped these things, tinsel-like, in poetry.
So what of this particular book? Some have criticised it as plotless, and it does certainly meander aimlessly most of the time; and it does almost completely lack dramatic tension. But [and I am almost cringing writing this] does life have a concise and satisfying plot? Because that is what Ulysses is about: life, in all its unstructured and whimsical glory. A genuinely moving experience.