Update on my New Year’s Resolutions — yes, I am reading Finnegans Wake. And it ain’t no piece o’cake. Ulysses was rather easy to read, and not only by comparison. It was actually a linear story. Finnegans Wake is not and there is an awful lot of made-up language (puns, portmanteaux and the like) in it. Still, one can follow. Book One was easy. Book Two a good deal more opaque. Book Three I am finding readable and quite funny.
In fact, I would suggest the key to reading Finnegans Wake and not letting it intimidate or frustrate you is to simply realize it is comedy — dark, at times, slapstick, vulgar and, on occasion, deeply literary. It reads as if someone had written out their dreams upon waking.
It also helps to be half-Norwegian, or know something of Norway and its culture. References to Ibsen and Norwegian words are strewn throughout the book and the story features Norwegian characters, as well.
Finally, it helps to know the song (especially for Book One).