Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Short Take: Molloy, Samuel Beckett

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Vladimir Nabokov famously said, “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it.” One may not agree this is true of all novels, or even most, but it is certainly true of Samuel Beckett’s Molloy (1951), the first book in what has come to be known as his Trilogy. (The other two books are Malone Dies and The Unnamable.) Molloy may at first seem impenetrable. Each of the two halves is made up of a long, rambling narrative told by one of the two protagonists. The first half is narrated by Molloy, an aimless vagrant and drifter; the second is related by Moran, a widower and father who is told by his employer to leave town in order to “see about” Molloy. The Molloy half is a long, apparently shapeless meander. The Moran section may not seem much different: he never gets far enough along to reach Molloy. The reader also never learns the nature of the employer’s interest, nor what Moran is supposed to do once he and Molloy meet. There really is no plot. The only things carrying the reader along are the elegant rhythms of Beckett’s concise prose, and the tantalizing metaphors, allegories, and absurdities that comprise the individual moments. The book only comes together once one has finished it. Superficially, Moran’s life is structured and Molloy’s is not, but the “rules” Moran is enamored with are shown to be egotism and artifice. Both men are defined by alienation and whim. The difference between the derelict and the adjusted in society ultimately proves happenstance. The book only achieves its full richness upon rereading. Among other things, the dense weave of Beckett’s various tropes require knowledge of the entire book to be appreciated. It’s a difficult novel, but undeniably a great one. It's a masterpiece in its depiction of modern anomie. It has also been extremely influential. To pick one example, the novel, particularly the Moran section, is the obvious model for the books that make up Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. Molloy was originally written in French. The English translation is by Patrick Bowles in collaboration with Beckett.

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