I finally finished reading Samuel Beckett’s “trilogy” of novels: Molloy (1955), Malone Dies (1956), and The Unnamable (1958). The years are for the English versions written by Beckett of works originally released in French.
In recommending it to you, I am doing you a favor, or I am doing you no favors, or you are probably wondering about my sanity, which you might well do, as I do myself even on changeable days in the spring. Have I gone too far? Or have I not gone far enough?
It took me many years to read this trilogy, though I only started in 2010. (It took me eight years to read 414 pages? I must be slipping.) I owned the edition below since the 1970s at least.
Molloy wasn’t too bad. At times, it even resembled a novel as I knew it, or thought I knew it:
And if I failed to mention this detail in its proper place, it is because you cannot mention everything in its proper place, you must choose, between the things not worth mentioning and those even less so. For if you set out to mention everything you would never be done, and that’s what counts, to be done, to have done.
Malone Dies are the thoughts of a dying man (who must actually be pretty healthy to remember so many thousands of words in his “condition”):
For I want as little as possible of darkness in his story. A little darkness, in itself, at the time, is nothing. You think no more about it and you go on. But I know what darkness is, it accumulates, thickens, then suddenly bursts and drowns everything.
With The Unnamable, one is on altogether dicier terrain. There are paragraphs that seem to go on for a hundred pages and sentences that go on for two or three pages. Molloy and Malone had actual human existences at some point, but the unnamed character in the final novel, who may once have been called Mahood and who may once have been called The Worm, has one arm and one leg, or no arms and no legs. At one point he has a single lidless unblinking eye, and he seems to have ears and a mouth, or maybe not. There isn’t a lot to hold on to in The Unnamable. Except, of course, the language:
…I don’t feel a mouth on me, I don’t feel the jostle of words in my mouth, and when you say a poem you like, if you happen to like poetry, in the underground, or in bed, for yourself, the words are there, somewhere, without the least sound, I don’t feel that either, words falling, you don’t know where, you don’t know whence, drops of silence through the silence, I don’t feel it, I don’t feel a mouth on me, nor a head, do I feel an ear, frankly now, do I feel an ear, well frankly now I don’t, so much the worse, I don’t feel an ear either, this is awful, make an effort, I must feel something, yes, I feel something, they say I feel something, I don’t know what I feel, tell me what I feel and I’ll tell you who I am…
Now all of that is just a small part of a single sentence near the end of The Unnamable. Can you wrap your head around a hundred and twenty pages of that? I managed to and even loved it. This is a “story” in which nothing happens, in which everything ventured meets its opposite. It’s like a collision of matter with anti-matter. Boom!