Bernard Sharratt

Bernard Sharratt, author of Reading Relations (1982) and The Literary Labyrinth (1984) and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the School of English, University of Kent had this to say:

“Readers of Joyce’s Portrait undoubtedly recognise themselves in Stephen Dedalus inscribing his name within an ever-expanding geography of Ireland, the world, the universe. Matthew Watkins has taken that schoolboy scribble to a whole new dimension and reversed the zoom lens, since he begins his book graphically with the cosmic Big Bang and then advances by carefully measured and diminishing steps in both time and space right down, almost, to the Planck unit, the smallest conceivable spatial area, which, by an orchestrated combination of historical trajectories, personal autobiography, and random chance, is an almost asymptotic spot in that ancient target of pilgrimage and tourism, Canterbury, and at an almost frozen minimal moment on a very specific date, 15th August 2014.

Along the way he has assembled an instructively entertaining array of detailed historical data about the city, gradually culminating in personal reminiscences of the counter-cultural music scene that once enlivened the place. It’s an intriguing and original structure that makes for a wonderfully compulsive read, even for those who don’t know Canterbury, since — like Stephen’s gesture — it beckons every one of us towards a shared sense of amazement at the deeply odd scope of the spatio-temporal world we actually inhabit.

Next time you consult a tourist map and read ‘You Are Here’, with a large arrow allegedly locating your position, don’t just casually believe it. As Watkins’s extraordinary and highly readable work alerts us, the world — for every one of us — is much more curiously mysterious and potentially exhilarating than we used to think. The ever-inquisitive Leopold Bloom would most certainly have relished this book.”

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