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Molloy Paperback – January 12, 1994
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Molloy's reason is abnormal from the outset of the novel. He does things without knowing why; he constantly questions himself back and forward without reaching a conclusion as he sees no objective basis for selecting one option above the other. Molloy is driven by the purpose of finding his mother, but has no reason for doing so and no idea where she currently is.
Through the character of Molloy (and later Malone) Beckett points to the absurdity of action without objective morality or purpose: that reason after the death of God in European society is stranded without a final goal for action. We chase goals that have no fundamental purpose and there is no overarching goal that can truly be said to be a rational foundation for action. In this state of affairs, we either end up psychologically paralysed or we make decisions for no solid reason apart from that life demands action.
The second half of the book follows Malone. At first Malone strikes the reader as a man that is extremely rational and is driven by first religious beliefs. He is horrendously hypocritical and ambitious, but unlike Molloy he makes decisions for a reason and therefore has a kind of internal consistency. However, as the book progresses Malone begins to buckle under the unbearable weight of the expectations that he places on himself and others and the absurdity of life.
Malone is sent by an organisation to find Molloy. His quest for Molloy seems rational at the outset but slowly reveals its absurdity as Malone has no idea why he is chasing Molloy or what he is supposed to do with him once he finds him. Eventually Malone becomes more like Molloy. He ceases to care about what happens to his body yet finds a kind of peace from the acceptance of the lack of purpose in life. In one beautiful passage Malone expresses his delight at the dancing of bees and his endless study of this; Malone says that this will remain beautiful as he won't destroy his delight in the unknown of how the bees communicate; he contrasts this to how humans have destroyed the delight of God by turning God into a larger version of a human being.
At some parts of the book Beckett makes it seem that Molloy could actually be the psychologically transformed version of Malone: both use crutches due to stiff knees and are estranged from their sons. After some reflection I decided this was not the case but instead is Beckett pointing out that the self is not a single, separate entity but there is a shared human experience and language from which each of us emerges. It is also possible that Beckett is saying that each individual is Molloy and Malone: on the one hand an individual that acts for no foundational reason and on the other an rational capacity that is internally contradicted without a metaphysical purpose structuring it but is still acting with the pretence of rationality.
Apart from the main themes described above, Molloy is laced with philosophical reflections and an incredibly funny sense of humour. Beckett said that the book came quickly out of his unconscious as he realised what he really wanted to say was what he was blocking in his unconsciousness. In this sense, many of the ideas in this work may have come from deep unconscious thoughts that Beckett had about the world and are not woven as a coherent plot. Some things in the book seem unconnected and one can dwell for a long time on the greater meaning. For me is was better to let the layered reflections wash over me and allow the experience to unfold without perfect clarity about what each aspect of the book means in relation to the rest of the novel.
See my other reviews at: amateurreviewspace.blogspot.com
The book is still something of a challenge but it more than repays any effort spent reading it. I strongly recommend it to anyone who loves the English language (especially as crafted by the Irish).
Published in French 1947
Translation by Patrick Bowles in collaboration with the author 1955
I have a theory that people label books "difficult" primarily so that they can feel special for having read them. We want to feel proud of ourselves. Understandable, I suppose, but the shame is that other people believe us -- and then are scared to take down the books we've put on the lofty pedestal marked "difficult books".
That's terrible, especially since many of the books labeled "difficult" just require a little more time, a change of perspective or attention - they are not as much "difficult" as they are "different". Molloy, for example.
I'll let everyone else rhapsodize brilliantly on Beckett. You can. My humble intention is to is entice a few more people to read this book, a few people who might otherwise feel intimidated. C'mon. Give it a try. Risk it. Don't surrender Beckett to the sole custody of the beautiful people.
A little advice, if you decide to read Molloy, despite feeling somewhat in over your head:
First, and perhaps most importantly: you must ignore the slight panic that arises the moment you notice that the second paragraph is 84 pages long and proceeds without a break. Ignore the voice (if it is present) that say that you by no means have brain power sufficient to the task, that books of this sort are only for persons who have doctorates in literature and wear all black and subsist on thin cigarettes and espresso, and are unbearable.
The reason to read Beckett isn't because he's the chief exhibit in the museum of existentialism. Molloy is fun, and above all funny, and, if it is the very blackest humor - well, what could be better suited to the times?
As you proceed, you will find that there are clear breaks in the monologue, clearly expressed in the thought if not in the typography. Beckett rambles in only the most precise way and, even when lost in the forest, the next step is clear. I suggest that you not be shy either to reread or to proceed without full comprehension. You'll get the hang of it. For me it took rereading the first ten pages three times - by then I'd found my way into reading Beckett and was having an excellent time.
I admit that, when my husband heard me laugh, and asked what I was laughing about, and I read a few lines aloud to him, he did look at me as if he were reconsidering his relationship choices.
This love scene, for example: "She bent over the couch, because of her rheumatism, and in I went from behind. It was the only position she could bear, because of her lumbago. It seemed all right to me, for I had seen dogs, and I was astonished when she confided that you could go about it differently. I wonder what she meant exactly. Perhaps after all she put me in her rectum. A matter of complete indifference to me, I needn't tell you. But is it true love, in the rectum?"
Or perhaps you'd rather consider "certain questions of a theological nature".
"1. What value is attached to the theory that Eve sprang, not from Adam's rib, but from a turour in the fat of his leg (arse?)?
2. Did the serpent crawl or, as Comestor affirms, walk upright?
3. Did Mary conceive through the ear, as Augustine and Adobard assert?
4. How much longer are we to hang about waiting for the antichrist?"
And so on.
See what fun the so-called smart people are having, as they blow smoke into Beckett while maintaining a serious expression? Please read Molloy and see for yourself.
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