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After 98 years... Dubliners still reflects us and our beloved city

IT WAS as hard for a 23-year-old new Dublin writer to find a publisher in 1905 as it is in 2012.

But the joy of any young writer opening an acceptance letter would be severely tempered if they realised that their book would not actually appear in print for another nine years.

James Joyce was 23 when Dubliners was accepted and 32 when the book finally crept into existence.

In fact it only survived because he used a cunning ruse to illicitly get his hands on the only surviving copy of its proofs, after the second publisher involved was so scandalised by its realistic portrayal of Dublin that he decided to burn all 1,000 copies of the first edition that had already been printed, rather than allow readers to be corrupted by reading it.

Now -- 98 years after Joyce succeeded in his titanic battle to have it published -- his classic book of short stories, Dubliners, is being celebrated in his native city, in the Dublin: One City, One Book project -- an initiative by Dublin City Libraries and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature -- to encourage people to all read the same book during the month of April.

Throughout the coming month, Dublin will play host to a range of events to celebrate Joyce's incisive insights in the lives of ordinary Dubliners -- a book crammed with landmarks that have disappeared and mind-sets that still lurk behind the facade of post-Celtic Tiger Dublin.

April 13 sees a celebration in the National Concert Hall, featuring Peter Sheridan, Dave McSavage, the present writer and a group of hirsute musicians who borrowed the name of Joyce's book 50 years ago.

Actor Stephen Rea reads the book's final story, The Dead (perhaps the greatest short story ever written) on RTE Radio 1's Book On One over two weeks.

There are walking tours, lectures and street events in places ranging from 'the dark gaunt house on Usher's Island' -- where The Dead is set -- to Dublin suburbs immortalised by this great book.

But the best way to celebrate it is simply to read it. Ulysses is a profoundly enjoyable book -- which is actually so funny that when Joyce wrote it, late at night during his years of poverty, his life partner Molly complained about him keeping her awake, laughing aloud to himself at his own words. It is however a difficult read in many chapters.

Finnegans Wake is essentially unreadable, being composed in the sort of jumbled babble of languages normally only heard on a packed 8am Luas to Tallaght.

A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man is an undoubted masterpiece, but its hero -- Stephen Dedalus -- lacks the richly humane grace that the cuckolded, regularly-insulted Leopold Bloom in Ulysses earns by refusing to allow such slights to diminish his spirit.

Therefore if you have never actually read our most famous writer, about whom tourists will drive you crazy with questions, then the 15 stories in Dubliners are the perfect place to start.

These are utterly naturalistic, easy-to-follow and true-to- life, which explains why they were quite so controversial in their day.

Dubliners was written two years before the riots in the Abbey Theatre because The Playboy Of The Western World was considered a slander on the saintliness of Irish women.

It was written when Irish literature was infused with the disease of bogus Celtic Mysticism (an illness doctors still haven't found a cure for) or was seen as a weapon in the fight for independence, with only deeply idealised representations of Irishness being allowed.

But Joyce simply went for what was real about Dublin, which was the same as going for the jugular.

Such home truths made the original printer in 1905 refuse to typeset his story, Two Gallants. When Joyce stood his ground, it took him another three years to find a second publisher, Maunsel and Roberts, but they also panicked to the extent of printing and then burning the book, causing another five-year delay before it was hailed for the landmark work of literature that it is.

Here is the agony of teenage love, the compromises of middle age and the stark realities of growing old, captured in deliberately ordinary moments that, although seemingly unremarkable, yield up epiphany moments of self-awareness for his characters.

If this is the only book you read this year, you may find not only the vanished landmarks of Dublin, but the traits of your grandparents, your parents and even yourself staring back at you from the pages of a book that a penniless 23- year-old Dubliner surely felt that he would never manage to get into print.

Enjoy it.

Dermot Bolger's new play about five Dublin women moving home, Tea Chests & Dreams runs in Axis Ballymun from April 10 to April 14 and the Civic Theatre, Tallaght on April 20 and 21.


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