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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Molloy (1951) by Samuel Beckett

Book Review
Molloy (1951)
 by Samuel Beckett

  Samuel Beckett is another Nobel Prize winner (1969).  He's best known for his play, Waiting for Godot, the original "play about nothing," which has inspired a half century of post-modernists across the world.  His novels are less well known, but his canonical status as both an o.g. post-modernist AND a direct link between modernism and post-modernism(via his relationship with James Joyce) ensures that his novels are well represented within the 1001 Books project.

  Molloy is the first book in a trilogy of novels published, in French, in the 1950s.  Beckett was famously quoted saying he wrote in French because it allowed him to write "without style."  He also translated the books himself, and it's hard to tell that one is reading a translated work when you read Molloy.   Molloy is "about" the eponymous character of the title, a vagrant writer living somewhere in Ireland.  Molloy resembles both a character from his 1938 novel, Murphy and any number of characters from a James Joyce novel.  The idea of an intellectual drifting at the fringe of (or outside of) respectable society has been so well established by the 60s counter culture that you have to pinch yourself and say, "Hey, Beckett was writing this novel in 1950!"

 When it comes to the works of the 20th century avant garde, I'm at a distinct disadvantage because I read these books in intellectual isolation.  It's hard to say what is even the point of engaging avant garde art without a community surrounding you to discuss and validate the time spent taking in works of art with complex and non-obvious meanings.  For example, Molloy is studded with references to Dante's Inferno... I had no idea, because I haven't read Dante, I don't know anyone who has read Dante, and I don't know anyone who has read Beckett.   So much of avant garde art revolves around having a community to validate your choices, otherwise it's like...why not read best sellers?

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