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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The House of Ulysses

Julián Ríos

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To purchase The House of Ulysses

Title: The House of Ulysses
Author: Julián Ríos
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 267 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The House of Ulysses - US
The House of Ulysses - UK
The House of Ulysses - Canada
Chez Ulysse - France
Casa Ulises - España
  • Spanish title: Casa Ulises
  • Translated by Nick Caistor

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fairly entertaining text-reading and criticism dressed up as fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
James Joyce Q. . 49:1 (Fall/2011) Katarzyna Bazarnik
The LA Times . 20/2/2011 Jim Ruland
El País . 20/9/2003 Julio Ortega
Télérama . 2/6/2007 Erwan Desplanques
TLS . 20/5/2011 Lucy Dallas

  From the Reviews:
  • "The House of Ulysses, though rigidly structured, has no plot. (...) The result is a work of criticism, albeit in disguise, that succeeds in making Ulysses immediate to readers familiar with the book and accessible to those reading it for the first time. "It is an easy house to run," Ríos writes, and a fun house too, and I strongly recommend it to those unable to finish Ulysses." - Jim Ruland, The Los Angeles Times

  • "La grandeza, claro, del Ulises de Joyce es permitirse hacer de cualquier lectura otra novela. Julián Ríos apuesta por esa ambición desmedida, o sea, tan admirable como irresoluble. Y logra, gracias al riesgo, recontar el Ulises como si fuese una forma superior de la manía literaria. O sea, una pasión "al pie de la letra". " - Julio Ortega, El País

  • "A première vue, l’exercice semble joyeux, ludique, rabelaisien. Quitte à souffrir de n’être que cela : pas un véritable roman sur le roman, mais une sorte de critique-fiction. Un genre neuf, séduisant, mais savonneux : à la fois trop léger pour le savant et trop savant pour le profane. Heureusement qu’il existe un public entre les deux." - Erwan Desplanques, Télérama

  • "This is a bold endeavour and it could go badly wrong, but the exuberance of the language and the delight Ríos clearly finds in Ulysses carry it. The quality of translation is, of course, vital and Nick Caistor does a wonderful job. The puns and coinages are sharp and funny and the narrative swerves and changes of register appear seamless." - Lucy Dallas, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Much as the great Arno Schmidt did in works such as his Radio Dialogs I and Radio Dialogs II, Julián Ríos presents a reading of a text -- Joyce's epochal novel -- within a new one in The House of Ulysses. Literary criticism and analysis mixes loosely with fiction itself (though the emphasis is overwhelmingly on the former -- Ríos doesn't look to muddle things up too much by layering his own invention too thickly on Joyce's); like Schmidt, Ríos finds a form of dialogue the best approach (though there's more embellishment in this purely literary text than Schmidt had in his radio-plays).
       The House of Ulysses brings together a variety of readers and guides, in 'The Ulysses Museum' where what action there is takes place. There's a Cicerone, a tour-guide of sorts. There is a mysterious "man with the Macintosh", a figure as mysterious as the man in the macintosh that is found in Ulysses itself ("Who is the man in the macintosh ? C wondered. That is one of the mysteries of Ulysses" Ríos notes), but here also a man with a different sort of Macintosh: the Apple computer ('Mac') kind. There is "the rotund Professor Jones". And there are three readers (each carrying "a volume of the monumental illustrated edition of Ulysses"):

     The mature reader (did she call him Ananias ?), the young female reader (Babel or Belle ?), and the old critic. Let's call them A, B, and C, for short.
       Screen-shots from the computer, outlining each chapter, are also utilized (though that's about as hypertextual as Ríos gets here), as the characters are led through and discuss the novel, chapter by chapter. A section of 'passageways' at the end of each chapter offers additional takes.
       As reading and analysis of, and reaction to Ulysses, Ríos' The House of Ulysses is most useful and appealing as a companion-volume; understandably, it has some difficulty standing entirely on its own (though it is thorough enough to serve as a decent crib for those who don't want to bother with Joyce -- though that would seem to entirely defeat the purpose, and certainly doesn't seem to be what Ríos intended the text for). It is, however, also a bit thin simply as exegesis: this isn't a radical new or in-depth reading of Joyce's work, but rather summary instead. Nevertheless, Ríos' own creative approach and his embrace of Joycean (and his distinctive own) wordplay make for a volume that is certainly an enjoyable way to revisit and reflect on Ulysses.
       There are useful titbits and observations throughout -- right down to the number of times the words 'yes' and 'no' appear (354 and 640, respectively) in Joyce's novel. Much is banal and familiar -- "Ulysses is a labyrinth of excreta, said A" -- but Ríos' playful (and generally wordplayful) approach makes for a a reasonably entertaining and informative tour.
       Ríos' style obviously loses something in translation, but Nick Caistor gamely does his best, and if occasionally the wordplay feels too tortured and forced (beginning with the opening line: "Step inside and take a look, or perhaps he said book" ...) on the whole it's reasonably well dosed (i.e. doesn't completely dominate and overwhelm the substance of the narrative). Short riffs -- "Green snot, how green I love you, A mucously mocked. Snot as the concretion and excretion of Irish phlegm ..." -- are mercifully short, with Ríos quickly moving on (if, admittedly, often to the next riff ...).
       As Ríos admits (via on of his characters):
     Yes, but above all Ulysses reads itself, C. said. Like Hamlet, it advances by reading the book of itself.
       Obviously not for everyone -- there's not much plot here, other than the advancing through the text --, The House of Ulysses is an enjoyable reading-novel for those who like this kind of thing (as, obviously, I do). It shouldn't be a Ulysses-substitute, but is a welcome and accessible companion volume -- and, for those who like Ríos' wordplayful style, quite good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 January 2011

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The House of Ulysses: Reviews: Ulysses: Other books by Julián Ríos under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Julián Ríos was born in 1941.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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