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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Watt (1953) by Samuel Beckett


Book Review
Watt (1953)
 by Samuel Beckett

   My best guess is that the "mid point" of the 1001 Books project, with 500 books read and 500 to go, would be reached in the mid 1950s.  If you use the unmodified "core collection" of 700 books, book #350 is another novel written by Samuel Beckett, Molloy, published two years before Watt, in 1951.  What that means is that every ten years from 1955 on is worth roughly one hundred books on the list, and every decade prior to that is worth 20 books or even less per decade.   So, at the very least, the inclusion of so many books per year from 1955 onwards makes those titles more suspect.  Beckett, like most other English language authors from the 20th century, loses a ton of his eight titles in the 2008 revision.  Watt is gone, the Unnameable and everything that made the list after his mid 50s hey day.

  Considering how strongly Samuel Beckett stands for the continuation of the early 20th century modernist project, I think the exclusion of his titles after 2008 speaks to a change in the project of literature that was happening while the first book was being disseminated, namely the triumph of the quest for different voices over a preference for books which dived further into the language and meaning of the novel itself. The authors who replace Beckett's work on the list are those from underrepresented places on the world map, and many of them tell stories that are closer to the novel in the 19th century than what it was becoming in the western avant gardes from the late 1960s onward.

  While none of Beckett's novels are conventional- perhaps Murphy is the only title in the 1001 Books project that even approaches a conventional narrative-  Watt is "high Beckett"- with an almost total absence of "action" and page spanning paragraphs which literally involve taking several different clauses and working through every permutation allowed by the sentence.  As an example, Bob, Steve and Larry were in a room.  Bob looked at Steven, who couldn't see Larry.  Bob looked at Larry, who couldn't see Steve.  Steve looked at Larry, who couldn't see Bob, and so on and so on for pages and pages, with many different variations.

  Beckett also includes songs and music in the text.   I will confess that parts of Watt did remind me of Thomas Pynchon, and I think it's a given that in the mid 1950s and onward was hugely influential on writers in the same way that the Velvet Underground was on musicians, maybe people didn't buy the records, but people who made music bought the records.  I still have three more Beckett titles to go off the 2006 1001 Books List.  I don't look forward to them.  I think the three titles that are in the core collection is enough Beckett for anyone not working in theater or literature.

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