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Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable: A Trilogy [Hardcover]

Samuel Beckett
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 16 1997 0375400702 978-0375400704
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

The first novel of Samuel Beckett's mordant and exhilarating midcentury trilogy introduces us to Molloy, who has been mysteriously incarcerated, and who subsequently escapes to go discover the whereabouts of his mother. In the latter part of this curious masterwork, a certain Jacques Moran is deputized by anonymous authorities to search for the aforementioned Molloy. In the trilogy's second novel, Malone, who might or might not be Molloy himself, addresses us with his ruminations while in the act of dying. The third novel consists of the fragmented monologue–delivered, like the monologues of the previous novels, in a mournful rhetoric that possesses the utmost splendor and beauty–of what might or might not be an armless and legless creature living in an urn outside an eating house. Taken together, these three novels represent the high-water mark of the literary movement we call Modernism. Within their linguistic terrain, where stories are taken up, broken off, and taken up again, where voices rise and crumble and are resurrected, we can discern the essential lineaments of our modern condition, and encounter an awesome vision, tragic yet always compelling and always mysteriously invigorating, of consciousness trapped and struggling inside the boundaries of nature.

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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."
—Richard Ellmann

"[Beckett] is an incomparable spellbinder...a serious writer with something serious to say about the human condition."
The New York Times

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comedy and compassion in a world of fictions. Dec 20 2001
By tepi
THREE NOVELS BY SAMUEL BECKETT: MOLLOY MALONE DIES THE UNNAMABLE. By Samuel Beckett. 414 pages. New York: Grove Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8021-5091-8 (pbk).
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Beckett's commentary on the human condition, with all its loneliness, apparent inanity, and futility is full of humor. When Moran is dispatched to find Molloy, he never sees him even though Molloy contemplates him as A and C on the first few pages of his own monologue. The Unnamable only makes sense (and it makes perfect sense, in fact much more than Molloy and Malone Dies) when you realize what the unnamable is. It is always three feet away from Malone, sees him only from the waist up, is forced to go in and out until it repeatedly vomits, associates himself with Ma(n)hood, and weeps continously with waste from his one eye. It is a male reproductive organ convinced that it is human, making up stories to attempt to understand its existence, and it actually seems more alive than Molloy, Moran, and Malone! It explains everything that happens (the strange shifts in night and day, hard and soft, the lack of limbs that it thinks it has lost) in the Unnamable. This brilliant technique shows mans ultimate ignorance of himself and his attempt to rationalize an existence he cannot understand. As the genitals serve man in a purpose they cannot understand and consider torture in creating life and removing poisons from the body, so does the irrational suffering of the human condition serve a higher purpose even though we cannot comprehend what it is or even what we are from our vantage point.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest writer of the twentieth century Aug. 29 1997
By A Customer
These three novels are the best of the 20th century.

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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "...the high-water mark of...Modernism" April 13 2004
The quotation reproduced above comes from the inside front flap of the dustcover of the Everyman's Library edition, and while such flaps in Everyman rarely reveal much about the contents of the books they cover, this quotation seems quite appropriate.
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of Beckett
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 literature
Published 4 months ago by Ness
2.0 out of 5 stars I Couldn't "go on"
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 more
Published on May 30 2004 by Henry Krinkle
3.0 out of 5 stars Molloy gets 5 stars, the rest zero
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 more
Published on April 5 2004 by J. Wombacher
3.0 out of 5 stars A Throughly Modern Novel
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
Published on Aug. 10 2003 by Michael M. Nash
4.0 out of 5 stars Artistic, Abstract, and Modern
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 more
Published on March 10 2003 by Ross James Browne
5.0 out of 5 stars Words words words
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 more
Published on Feb. 1 2003 by Michael Battaglia
5.0 out of 5 stars the quest for silence
In these three stories Beckett takes us inside the mind of the genius in a way that no other writer has done. Read more
Published on Dec 12 2001 by Bruce Rogan
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a collection for the impatient
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 more
Published on June 25 2001 by JR
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, funny, funny!
It can't be only me who thinks that the academic approach to this book is deadly. Loosen up, people! Read more
Published on April 26 2001 by Michael D. Kittell
5.0 out of 5 stars Bad Psychology
Regarding the statements made in samm2's review below, I am not familiar with the school of psychology that deems it valid to judge someone's sanity based on a work of fiction he... Read more
Published on Dec 19 2000 by "kupsch"
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