“One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit.”
Brazilian writer dismisses modernist classic about a day in the life of Leopold Bloom as ‘pure style’
‘There is nothing there’ … Paulo Coelho rubbishes James Joyce’s Ulysses. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian
Speaking to Brazilian newspaper Folha de S Paulo, Coelho said the reason for his own popularity was that he is “a modern writer, despite what the critics say”. This doesn’t mean his books are experimental, he added – rather, “I’m modern because I make the difficult seem easy, and so I can communicate with the whole world.”
Writers go wrong, according to Coelho, when they focus on form, not content. “Today writers want to impress other writers,” he told the paper. “One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit.”
Coelho’s spiritual novels and books – his latest, Manuscrito encontrado em Accra, is set in 1099 Jerusalem as the Crusaders prepare to attack – have sold more than 115m copies in more than 160 countries. Ulysses, Joyce’s 265,000-word modernist novel about a day in the life of Leopold Bloom in Dublin, was first published with a print run of 1,000 copies in 1922. Those first editions now sell for up to £100,000, and the novel is celebrated every year on 16 June around the world, the day Bloom wandered through Dublin.
Although Ulysses frequently tops best novel lists, Coelho is not the first to criticise Joyce’s masterpiece. Roddy Doyle said in 2004 that the novel“could have done with a good editor”, and doubted that people putting it in the top 10 books ever written “were really moved by it”.