Published in 1939, Finnegans Wake is James Joyce’s final work and one that defies the ability of most readers. Those with the intellectual foundation and experiential backbone to make their way through this dense, confusing, innovative and whimsical work are rewarded with far more than the typical linear narrative progression from point A to point Z. Finnegans Wake is not about plot, it is about the history of the world in microcosm. By the time the reader closes the back cover, he has been treated to a deceptively methodical working out of themes touching upon history, Western culture, politics, myth, linguistics, theology and even geography.
Several excerpts of the work-in-progress began appeared in 1924 before the culmination of the finished work appeared coincident with the arrival of the Nazis. Not that the two are related in any way, but when making one’s way through the massively imaginative landscape of Joyce's book, one cannot but fail to be reminded that though written in the first half of the 20th century, Finnegans Wake is decidedly a postmodernist work that at the very least belongs to the latter half of the last century. More likely, it will take until the next century for the novel to be fully understood by more than 50 people at any given moment in time.
Finnegans Wake draws its inspiration from an Irish song about a corpse that is revived by a splash liquir during the victim’s wake. Over and over again, the novel points its ways to themes about resurrection and, indeed, if one were to fixate upon a single overarching theme within this crazy quilt of a crazy novel, it would be resurrection. History, myth, politics, linguistics and even geography are brought back to life for examination in a story where the events really only cover a few hours. Symb0lically, of course, the timeline is inifinite.
If this overview of Finnegans Wake has left you somewhat confused as to what the work is actually about, understand this was done on purpose. Anyone attempting to tackle the work that took James Joyce almost two decades to complete needs to know what they are letting themselves in for. And this overview is “Dick and Jane Reads Joyce” compared to what awaits you within the pages of Finnegans Wake after getting past its opening line:
“Riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”