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Marathon book read ends with toast -- as wake should

An American book club is celebrating after managing to plough through James Joyce's famously difficult Finnegans Wake, in a marathon 13 years.

The Finnegans Wake Reading Group has been meeting each week at pubs and restaurants around Boston since early 1997, reading a single page of the long and convoluted Irish classic at each sitting.

Around 20 members met for the final time earlier this week to toast their achievement in reaching the end of the 628-page comic novel, which took Joyce 17 years to write.

One member said: "The book has become like an old friend -- it was hard to put it down after all this time.

"People say it is a difficult novel because of its experimental nature and the language Joyce uses. To us it is a work of genius, although it's difficult to say exactly what it is about."

The group, which includes a computer programmer, a multimedia consultant and several teachers, held its first meetings in an Irish restaurant called Finnegans Wake near Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But it moved to the nearby Thirsty Scholar pub a few years later as the restaurant's subdued lighting made it difficult for members to see what they were reading and slowed their already halting progress.

The novel, Joyce's final work, published two years before his death in 1939, includes words from more than 60 languages and dialects and has a reputation as being one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language.

The title is a reference to a song of Joyce's day about a Dublin hod-carrier named Tim Finnegan who falls from a ladder and is presumed dead until whiskey is splashed on the corpse and he miraculously revives.

Member Erik Jespersen added: "The Wake is an enigma, but something new came out each time we met."

Sunday Independent