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Friday, February 20, 2015

Murphy (1938) by Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett as a student in the 1920s.

Book Review
Murphy (1938)
by Samuel Beckett

  You can get away with calling Samuel Beckett either the "last of the modernists" or the "first of the post-modernists" in casual conversation, either assertion is easily buttressed by  Murphy, one of Beckett's few novels.  Published in 1938, the end of the modernist period, it contains a main character whose behavior is more in line with precepts of post modernism than any particular strain of modernism.  Murphy is equally obsessed with not working and conducting breathing and meditation exercises while tightly restrained in a chair.

 Beckett's prose technique is recognizably modernist or avant garde, but not excessively so. It's hard not to compare Murphy to novels written by James Joyce in their similar espousal of a low budget, pre-1960s concern with non-traditional brands of spirituality.  For example, Joyce's Ulysses is infused with multiple ruminations about Kabbalah.  Murphy has no explicit ideology, Samuel Beckett clearly did not want him to have any appreciable motivation.  At the end of Beckett, he is immolated in his "proper garrett" inside the insane asylum where he works.   The portion of the book where Beckett goes to work among the insane is the only part that could be considered to have "action."  The rest takes place mostly in the apartment of Beckett and his hooker girlfriend.

  The relationship of Beckett and James Joyce is no secret, occupying pride of place on Wikipedia for Samuel Beckett's "Early Works" heading.

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