Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man | James Joyce
This work definitely requires much more academic context and guidance than I had for a full experience. Joyce is unapologetically, almost bravely undidactic — a thorough nonbeliever in setting the scene. (The contemporary analogy that comes to mind is Junot Diaz.) As such, much is lost on readers who are not familiar with 20th-century Jesuit gentrified white male culture: i.e. myself.
The cast of characters is abundant and motley, appearing and vanishing at random — much as acquaintances do in real life. While an admirable emulation of human relationships formed in youth, in a novel this makes the characters difficult to distinguish and understand, not to mention care for.
Joyce's masterpiece is often dissected as follows: the linguistic and philosophical complexity of each section increases as the main character matures. (In this sense, it is frequently compared to the Harry Potter series for the modern reader's understanding.) Perhaps my inability to enjoy the last parts of the book, then, is simply an indicator that I have not reached the rhetorical and aesthetic sophistication of a teenaged James Joyce.
I am nevertheless convinced that endnotes, if not a professor, would have helped. Note to self: for the "big books," go with Penguin or Oxford, not Vintage.