I’ve since read it a few times for no particular reason, because the thing about Dubliners is that it never loses its capacity to draw me into its confined narrative spaces, with all their cruel precision and humane comedy, all their beauty and their bleakness, their terrible evocations of boredom and desperation and yearning and entrapment. And if you live in Dublin, if you are yourself a Dubliner, no matter how many times you read the book, it will always reveal something profound and essential and unrealized about the city and its people. Somehow or another, it will always hit you where you live.
It’s common for descriptions of James Joyce’s Dubliners to label its stories portraits of Irish life. If you’d like to look at actual portraits of Irish life in 1904, however, you could do a lot worse than this series of old photos of Dublin, available online courtesy of the Google Cultural Institute.
Joyce’s might be key to understanding sad sentences: their emotional impact doesn’t stem solely from the combination of words. The impact often results from the circumstances of readers’ lives. Nothing gets read in a vacuum.