Dense and challenging is perhaps the quick way to capture Joyce’s fictional autobiography. The protagonist’s maturing stages, the politics and geography of late nineteenth century Ireland, the view within the mind of a thoughtful young man’s contentious engagement with Catholicism. Some passages left me clapping aloud, and two conclusions reached at the novel’s end concerning the nature of an artist make the previous pages almost seem worth it.
Almost, that is, because ultimately this book fails as a read that I could not put down. What kept me going through the sometimes soporific monologues was my great respect for where Joyce was going with the novel. In some ways Portrait is a very lonely book; the only character the reader engages is the young man himself, everyone else is kept at a distance and filtered in and out in frustrating glimpses of the surrounding world.