"The plain reader be damned," declared the young Samuel Beckett in an essay in Transition
, the Parisian journal where some of his first poetry and prose appeared. Plain readers have been grappling with Beckett's thorny, modernist work ever since. Some of the stories collected in Samuel Beckett: The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989
and its companion volume Nohow On: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho: Three Novels
seem almost approachable, while such exercises in oddity as the 13 Texts for Nothing
seem more impenetrable by the day.
From Publishers Weekly
In counterpoint to Beckett's plays, novels and poems is the equally brilliant shorter prose?the stories, soliloquies and depersonalized monologues he wrote throughout his career. Here, collected and edited by the editor of On Beckett: Essays and Criticism, are all three-dozen instances of that prose, only some of which have appeared previously in books; one story, "The Cliff," is debuting here. The earlier entries indicate Beckett's uneasy apprenticeship before he found his voice and a matching style. The Joycean logorrhea of "Sedento and Quiescendo" (later part of Dream of Fair to Middling Women) and the conventional narration of "A Case in a Thousand" don't achieve much in themselves. Still, as with "Assumption," the earliest piece here, they display the stirrings of a genius that would take shape in the stories of 1946 and in Texts for Nothing, as in Waiting for Godot. Some of the stories?"The End"; "The Expelled"; "First Love"; "The Calmative"?are acknowledged short masterpieces, meandering Cartesian misadventures of minds and bodies stumbling over one another. In later works, Beckett can be seen tracing the further patterns of a mind narrating its disintegration (the "skull alone in a dark place"), as in "Imagination Dead Imagine," "Ping" and a series of eight pieces called "Fizzles." Elsewhere, in "From an Abandoned Work" and "Enough," the author's wanderers are curtailed, his "Lost Ones" vainly searching a cylindrical prison for an exit, his aged narrators tramping through their memories. In the closing "Stirrings Still," written at age 82, Beckett refines and intermingles these elements in a despairing, delightful voice that struggles with what its owner called its "obligation to express." Despite some juvenilia and curiosa, this is an invaluable one-volume addition to the Beckett shelf.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.