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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
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 14 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