Heavily hypertextual, Afternoon requires a very patient and persistent reader. It has many different streams of narrative that, if read in a different sequence, can lead to vastly different conclusions and meanings. The titles of lexias are not of much help as they are vague and do not show any apparent correlation between the lexias. However, because it has no fixed chronological order, Afternoon allows the reader to create his own reading of the text. The lexias recur as readers follow the different possible routes. This is perhaps the only orientating device within the story as the reader is reminded that they have read this before and from there, draw their own meaning. And with enough reading, the human mind will make up some meaning from the text even if there is none to be gleaned. But maybe I'm too cynical. To add to the confusion, Afternoon is written in unexplained social contexts, which thus requires the reader to have some background knowledge of the environment, local expressions and habits, which can make for a rather alienating read.
The methods of progressing into the story are not very helpful. The "yes and no" options do not work that often and these options leave the reader wondering what would be different on the other side. The "list of links" option is just that, a list of links. It does not tell the reader anything about how each link will advance the current narrative. The word search is equally vague as the reader gets the most obscure hits possible. The default reading is shallow and rather uninteresting and doesn't give you a clue about what is going on. I mean, if the story was meant to be read through the default progression, it would be written as a linear text. Thus the reader plunges into the depths of the midday abyss without a life buoy. Although the back button is always around, the reader is confronted with another multitude of links when he arrives in the other lexia so much so that he looses track of where he has been and where he is going. Furthermore, if the back button were to be used, the reader may get disorientated, as the train of thought is broken.
By reading one version first, the reader is clouded with the first reading so the second reading would be affected and thus the second route of choice may yield a different reading than if it were to be read on the maiden read. This means that the meanings will change with every route and the meaning that is in every route will change with every read. Which is really confusing. This basically leaves the reader with the constant question of "What If?" What if I read another sequence first? What if I did not make this choice? What if I said yes? What if I didn't have to do this assignment?
Afternoon basically disorientates me, leaving me unsure of what to make of my reading. I am never sure if my reading is correct or is there something I missed that I might have got if I had taken another turn. But if I go back to it now, I'm not sure that if I make that turn will I get the same reading that I would have got as now my reading might have been coloured by what I have already read? Confused? Well I am. There are no definites, no absolutes; no way to know if the end you're getting at is the way to go.
This reminds me of Foucault and Barthes. To Barthes, the author is arbitrary and to Foucault, the author is central. In the case of before evening, they are both correct. To the reader who is content just to have his own reading of the text, Barthes would be worshiped. But to the reader who wants to know all the possible permutations and absolutes of the story, Foucault would be spot on. For I am such a reader, and if I could have Joyce sit down and explain to me what is going on, it would help a great deal. But maybe I'm used to being spoon-fed. It may be a brilliant piece of hypertext fiction that perfectly exemplifies Barthes's writerly text, but I don't like it.