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Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable: A Trilogy Hardcover – Sep 16 1997
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Samuel Beckett's brilliance as a dramatist--as the creator of Waiting for Godot, Krapp's Last Tape, and that despairing pas de deux Endgame--has tended to overshadow his gifts as a novelist. Yet he's unmistakably one of the great fiction writers of our century. As a young man he took dictation (literally) from James Joyce, and absorbed everything that myopic maestro had to offer when it came to Anglo-Irish prosody. Still, Beckett's instincts would ultimately steer him away from Joyce's delirious play with high and low diction, toward a more concentrated, even compulsive style. His earlier novels, like Murphy or Watt, give us a taste of what was to come. But Beckett truly hit his stride with a trilogy of early-1950s masterpieces: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. Here he dispenses with all the customary props of contemporary fiction--including exposition, plot, and increasingly, paragraphs--and turns his attention to consciousness itself. Nobody has ever evoked the pain of existence, or the steady slide toward nonexistence, with such poetic, garrulous accuracy. And once you've attuned yourself to the epistemological vaudeville of Beckett's prose, he turns out to be the funniest writer on the planet--ever.
None of the three entries in the trilogy is exactly amenable to summary. It's fair to say, though, that Molloy is the easiest to read, with at least a bare-bones narrative and an abundance of comical set pieces. In one famous episode, the narrator spends page after page figuring out how to vary the sucking stones he carries in his pockets:
And while I gazed thus at my stones, revolving interminable martingales all equally defective, and crushing handfuls of sand, so that the sand ran through my fingers and fell back on the strand, yes, while thus I lulled my mind and part of my body, one day suddenly it dawned on the former, dimly, that I might perhaps achieve my purpose without increasing the number of my pockets, or reducing the number of my stones, but simply by sacrificing the principle of trim. The meaning of this illumination, which suddenly began to sing within me, like a verse of Isaiah, or of Jeremiah, I did not penetrate at once, and notably the word trim, which I had never met with, in this sense, long remained obscure.This nutty ratiocination goes on for much, much longer, until the narrator loses patience and throws the stones away. And that's a fair encapsulation of Beckett's philosophy: he argues for the essential pointlessness of life--the solitary, wretched splendor of human existence--but does so in a comic rather than a tragic register, which ends up softening or even overpowering the bleakness of his initial premise. So Malone Dies opens with a typically morbid mood-lifter ("I shall soon be quite dead at last in spite of it all") and then makes endless comedic hay out of Malone's failure to keel over. And by the time we hit The Unnamable, we're forced to wonder whether the narrator actually exists: "I, say I. Unbelieving. Questions, hypotheses, call them that. Keep going, going on, call that going, call that on." Happily, Beckett worried these same questions and hypotheses to the end of his career, with increasingly minimalistic gusto. But he never topped the intensity or linguistic brilliance of this mind-bending three-part invention. --James Marcus
"Beckett is one of the most positive writers alive. Behind all his mournful blasphemies against man there is real love. And he is genuine: every sentence is written as if it had been lived."
—The New York Times Book Review
"[Beckett] possesses fierce intellectual honesty, and his prose has a bare, involuted rhythm that is almost hypnotic."
"Samuel Beckett is sui generis...He has given a voice to the decrepit and maimed and inarticulate, men and women at the end of their tether, past pose or pretense, past claim of meaningful existence. He seems to say that only there and then, as metabolism lowers, amid God's paucity, not his plenty, can the core of the human condition be approached...Yet his musical cadences, his wrought and precise sentences, cannot help but stave off the void...Like salamanders we survive in his fire."
"[Beckett] is an incomparable spellbinder...a serious writer with something serious to say about the human condition."
—The New York Times
Top Customer Reviews
There are many good reasons for reading Beckett's Trilogy. There is, in the first place, his beautifully clear and supple prose, a prose that moves with ease from the simple and straightforward treatment of everyday matters through to passages of intense lyrical beauty, or to equally moving outbursts of extreme brutality and obscenity. There is also Beckett's wonderful sense of humor, and readers will often find themselves chuckling at his eccentric characters and their zany carryings on. There is the unique effect produced by the general strangeness of his novels, with their odd characters moving through vividly realized landscapes which seem real enough but in which many of the happenings are either inexplicable or left unexplained.
There are also such things as his compassionate treatment of animals, for although Beckett seems most of the time to have little love for his fellow men, the intensity of his love and respect for the humbler creatures of the earth - donkeys, sheep, pigs, bees, birds, etc., - can be overpowering. Here, for example, is Beckett in 'Malone Dies' (p.304) describing, in his powerful and beautiful prose, a grey hen : ". . . this big, anxious, ashen bird, poised irresolute on the bright threshold, then clucking and clawing behind the range and fidgeting her atrophied wings, soon to be sent flying with a broom and angry cries and soon to return, cautiously, with little hesitant steps, stopping often to listen, opening and shutting her little bright black eyes"
There is here a total identification with a creature we would normally have difficulty identifying with, and a very real compassion.Read more ›
They contain all the beauty, despair, and spareness that makes Beckett the patron writer of our century. They get at the core of what it means to be a self in the midst of the void, having, against one's will, a self's attendant thoughts, words, stories, and imagination. "I, say I. Unbelieving" says Beckett in the first line of The Unnamable, and you can believe him. These novels are as metaphysical as novels get, asking sincerely what it means to be. And asking just as sincerely if language can ever help us figure that out.
Each novel, with Molloy on his crutches, Malone in his death-bed, The Unnamable in his skull, is screamingly funny and cryingly horrible. Beckett's sense of the absurd and the ridiculous are only matched by his encyclopedic knowledge and overwhelming but strangely life-affirming pessimism, which helps us go on as we laugh at the world's collection of whimsies.
There are no novels better. There are few funnier. There are none containing more truth.
People seem to be upset by Beckett's techniques in writing these novels. Some have even alleged that Beckett (gasp!) has attempted to write a novel without any features of a normal novel. This misses the point of modernism and, while some reviewers may prefer the linearity of the traditional novel (while not, of course, being bad at literary criticism), this misconception of linearity must be corrected. Whereas writers like Conrad (even though Conrad never admitted being an Impressionist writer) cast a haze over his prose desciptions to obscure his readers' vision, modernists give us crisp clarities, but provide us with only the minutest of details. Here, we see the influence of abstract art on literature--especially the dynamism of Marcel Duchamp. By this I mean that modernists attempted to show all stages of motion at once, as in Duchamp's famous painting "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2"--the nude is depicted as a brown blur, and Duchamp shows all stages of the nude's descent. In modernist literature, there are frequent references to earlier events, and there are references to future events. This is evident in _Ulysses_, an epic work of modernism by James Joyce, from whom Beckett himself learned numerous literary techniques.
But also, we see the strong influence Proust had on Beckett. In what has been called, by some critics, the greatest novel written (A la recherche du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past), Proust attempted to write a novel in which the main theme was memory.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
absolutely brilliant!! This Beckett at his best, these three are from when he was on top of his game. A must read for any serious fan of modern literaturePublished 20 months ago by Ness
I need to write this review quickly so I don't lose some of the thoughts that I am having. I feel empty inside. Read morePublished on May 30 2004 by Henry Krinkle
It is a great literary ploy when a writer of a high degree of capability, but lacking the right experiences and insight into humanity, appeals to the problem of narration and... Read morePublished on April 5 2004 by J. Wombacher
The Everyman's Library is a wonderful edition and does Beckett and the modern novel justice as an artist and a art form
In Molloy you will read over a 100 pages with no... Read more
I am subtracting one star only because of the weakness of the middle novel, _Malone Dies_. The middle novel serves only to help set up the final novel, _The Unnamable_, which is... Read morePublished on March 10 2003 by Ross James Browne
It's hard to top Beckett when it comes to sheer density of prose. His trilogy here is considered one of the greatest sets of novels in the 20th century, and it's a rightly... Read morePublished on Feb. 1 2003 by Michael Battaglia
In these three stories Beckett takes us inside the mind of the genius in a way that no other writer has done. Read morePublished on Dec 12 2001 by Bruce Rogan
I was reading parts of this book while my Grandmother was dying in the hospital, so you can imagine my state of mind after I reached the end of a paragraph. Read morePublished on June 25 2001 by JR
It can't be only me who thinks that the academic approach to this book is deadly. Loosen up, people! Read morePublished on April 26 2001 by Michael D. Kittell