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Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable Paperback – June 16, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

Samuel Beckett's brilliance as a dramatist--as the creator of Waiting for Godot, Krapp's Last Tape, and that despairing pas de deux Endgame--has tended to overshadow his gifts as a novelist. Yet he's unmistakably one of the great fiction writers of our century. As a young man he took dictation (literally) from James Joyce, and absorbed everything that myopic maestro had to offer when it came to Anglo-Irish prosody. Still, Beckett's instincts would ultimately steer him away from Joyce's delirious play with high and low diction, toward a more concentrated, even compulsive style. His earlier novels, like Murphy or Watt, give us a taste of what was to come. But Beckett truly hit his stride with a trilogy of early-1950s masterpieces: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. Here he dispenses with all the customary props of contemporary fiction--including exposition, plot, and increasingly, paragraphs--and turns his attention to consciousness itself. Nobody has ever evoked the pain of existence, or the steady slide toward nonexistence, with such poetic, garrulous accuracy. And once you've attuned yourself to the epistemological vaudeville of Beckett's prose, he turns out to be the funniest writer on the planet--ever.

None of the three entries in the trilogy is exactly amenable to summary. It's fair to say, though, that Molloy is the easiest to read, with at least a bare-bones narrative and an abundance of comical set pieces. In one famous episode, the narrator spends page after page figuring out how to vary the sucking stones he carries in his pockets:

And while I gazed thus at my stones, revolving interminable martingales all equally defective, and crushing handfuls of sand, so that the sand ran through my fingers and fell back on the strand, yes, while thus I lulled my mind and part of my body, one day suddenly it dawned on the former, dimly, that I might perhaps achieve my purpose without increasing the number of my pockets, or reducing the number of my stones, but simply by sacrificing the principle of trim. The meaning of this illumination, which suddenly began to sing within me, like a verse of Isaiah, or of Jeremiah, I did not penetrate at once, and notably the word trim, which I had never met with, in this sense, long remained obscure.
This nutty ratiocination goes on for much, much longer, until the narrator loses patience and throws the stones away. And that's a fair encapsulation of Beckett's philosophy: he argues for the essential pointlessness of life--the solitary, wretched splendor of human existence--but does so in a comic rather than a tragic register, which ends up softening or even overpowering the bleakness of his initial premise. So Malone Dies opens with a typically morbid mood-lifter ("I shall soon be quite dead at last in spite of it all") and then makes endless comedic hay out of Malone's failure to keel over. And by the time we hit The Unnamable, we're forced to wonder whether the narrator actually exists: "I, say I. Unbelieving. Questions, hypotheses, call them that. Keep going, going on, call that going, call that on." Happily, Beckett worried these same questions and hypotheses to the end of his career, with increasingly minimalistic gusto. But he never topped the intensity or linguistic brilliance of this mind-bending three-part invention. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Beckett is one of the most positive writers alive. Behind all his mournful blasphemies against man there is real love. And he is genuine: every sentence is written as if it had been lived."--"The New York Times Book Review" "[Beckett] possesses fierce intellectual honesty, and his prose has a bare, involuted rhythm that is almost hypnotic."--"Time" "Samuel Beckett is sui generis...He has given a voice to the decrepit and maimed and inarticulate, men and women at the end of their tether, past pose or pretense, past claim of meaningful existence. He seems to say that only there and then, as metabolism lowers, amid God's paucity, not his plenty, can the core of the human condition be approached...Yet his musical cadences, his wrought and precise sentences, cannot help but stave off the void...Like salamanders we survive in his fire."--Richard Ellmann "[Beckett] is an incomparable spellbinder...a serious writer with something serious to say about the human condition."--"The New York Times"

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (June 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802144470
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802144478
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin in 1906. He was educated at Portora Royal School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated in 1927. His made his poetry debut in 1930 with Whoroscope and followed it with essays and two novels before World War Two. He wrote one of his most famous plays, Waiting for Godot, in 1949 but it wasn't published in English until 1954. Waiting for Godot brought Beckett international fame and firmly established him as a leading figure in the Theatre of the Absurd. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. Beckett continued to write prolifically for radio, TV and the theatre until his death in 1989.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

100 of 103 people found the following review helpful By tepi on December 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
THREE NOVELS BY SAMUEL BECKETT: MOLLOY MALONE DIES THE UNNAMABLE. By Samuel Beckett. 414 pages. New York: Grove Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8021-5091-8 (pbk).
There are many good reasons for reading Beckett's Trilogy. There is, in the first place, his beautifully clear and supple prose, a prose that moves with ease from the simple and straightforward treatment of everyday matters through to passages of intense lyrical beauty, or to equally moving outbursts of extreme brutality and obscenity. There is also Beckett's wonderful sense of humor, and readers will often find themselves chuckling at his eccentric characters and their zany carryings on. There is the unique effect produced by the general strangeness of his novels, with their odd characters moving through vividly realized landscapes which seem real enough but in which many of the happenings are either inexplicable or left unexplained.
There are also such things as his compassionate treatment of animals, for although Beckett seems most of the time to have little love for his fellow men, the intensity of his love and respect for the humbler creatures of the earth - donkeys, sheep, pigs, bees, birds, etc., - can be overpowering. Here, for example, is Beckett in 'Malone Dies' (p.304) describing, in his powerful and beautiful prose, a grey hen : ". . . this big, anxious, ashen bird, poised irresolute on the bright threshold, then clucking and clawing behind the range and fidgeting her atrophied wings, soon to be sent flying with a broom and angry cries and soon to return, cautiously, with little hesitant steps, stopping often to listen, opening and shutting her little bright black eyes"
There is here a total identification with a creature we would normally have difficulty identifying with, and a very real compassion.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 29, 1997
Format: Paperback
These three novels are the best of the 20th century.

They contain all the beauty, despair, and spareness that makes Beckett the patron writer of our century. They get at the core of what it means to be a self in the midst of the void, having, against one's will, a self's attendant thoughts, words, stories, and imagination. "I, say I. Unbelieving" says Beckett in the first line of The Unnamable, and you can believe him. These novels are as metaphysical as novels get, asking sincerely what it means to be. And asking just as sincerely if language can ever help us figure that out.

Each novel, with Molloy on his crutches, Malone in his death-bed, The Unnamable in his skull, is screamingly funny and cryingly horrible. Beckett's sense of the absurd and the ridiculous are only matched by his encyclopedic knowledge and overwhelming but strangely life-affirming pessimism, which helps us go on as we laugh at the world's collection of whimsies.

There are no novels better. There are few funnier. There are none containing more truth.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on February 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
It's hard to top Beckett when it comes to sheer density of prose. His trilogy here is considered one of the greatest sets of novels in the 20th century, and it's a rightly deserved reputation. Here Beckett does two neat tricks over the course of the three books, first he gradually strips the story down to its very essence, that being words and sentences and phrases to the point where the story is almost pure thought processes. Second, and this is probably harder, he manages the trick of taking an absolutely bleak view of life and making it absolutely hilarious. Through absurd situations, witty asides and just general black humor there are fewer works of literature that will literally have you laughing out loud while forcing you to confront the possible pointlessness of life. At no point is any of this easy reading, Beckett's prose can be politely described as relentless and the words just keep coming, maintaining an odd, jerky sort of rhythm that manages to pull you along so that the books read much faster than you might expect. And even though it's a trilogy mostly in spirit, there are some definite progressions from book to book. Molloy is the easiest to read and makes the most sense, even if its circuitiousness can be madly frustrating sometimes. And for some reason Beckett pulls an absolutely bizarre switch halfway through that I'm not smart enough to understand. But for the most part it's fairly accessable. Malone Dies is as bleak as the name implies and is probably the funniest in a black humour sort of way. I actually found this one easiest to understand though, but that's probably not the case with everyone.Read more ›
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Dalman on December 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
It's a pity more people don't read Beckett and cannot seem to enjoy him. The trilogy stands right up there with Ulysses as perhaps the greatest work of the century. With Beckett, who needs a plot? Prose has never been more austerely beautiful and never will be again, after Beckett. Yes, there are some maddening scenes in these three inter-related novels and, yes, there is no conventional "plot," but what we have is a distillation of the bare-boned dilemma of existence. When sad, pathetic, tormented Malone (let's not kid ourselves, he's Everyman) lies in his forlorn room watching the sky from his window, there is no more beautiful poetry in the English language. The moon, in Beckett, is truly the moon. At his very greatest, when he is wringing that stark, cold cosmic beauty from despair, Beckett is the finest writer of the century, better even than Joyce. Such a sad shame that this great trilogy will never be read or appreciated except by such few people. It's just the best there is. Period.
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