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Gryfynn

Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable

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I probably need to start this topic by pointing out that I listened to the Naxos Audiobook editions of these books. I did not read them myself, I do however think this was the best way.

It's difficult to give a plot summary for the trilogy, barring the first book, which at least has something that seems like a basic plot. However there are all kinds of mysteries wrapped up in the trilogy, which make it all the more enjoyable. Are Malone, Molloy and Moran simply the same person? A satisfactory answer is never really given.

Molloy:

The book tells the story of how Molloy leaves home to go to see his mother and how various events and his own disorientation prevent him from doing so. The second half of the book is told from the perspective of Moran, an agent for an unknown (possibly fictitious) organisation who is sent to find Molloy in the company of his son.

Malone Dies:

The second book picks up the story of an old man by the name of Malone, who is dying in an unknown location with unknown people bringing his food and emptying his chamberpot. He tells a rather rambling disjointed story to pass the time.

The Unnamable:

The unnamable is the most difficult book in terms of text. It's a fragmented, disjointed monologue by a nameless entity who may or may not be any of the above characters who has lost the ability to do anything but speak.

 

I found the whole trilogy in itself very difficult to read, but not because it was badly written. The text is hard going and I did find myself rereading parts of the book to be sure I had understood what had been said. However the tragic way in which Beckett represents the human condition perhaps resonated with me somewhat, since I have a physical disability.

Over the course of each book the circumstances of the characters becomes worse and worse, particularly their own physical condition. Both Molloy and Moran are left almost unable to move at the end of the first book, while Malone is left to starve without the use of his stick, which he has lost and cannot retrieve, and the monolog of the unnamable becomes more and more despairing as the book progresses.

I could see echoes of his later plays in the trilogy too, particularly from Waiting for Godot.

I remember upon finishing the 3rd book feeling a profound sense of despair and hopelessness, but also beauty. Human beings are capable of nastiness, cruelty, kindness and beauty, but you never know what you're going to be on the receiving end of. Above everything it did make me realise that, for the most part, we waste a lot of time in meaningless action, maybe because we don't really want to think about what we should be doing with our time. Maybe this resonates more because so many of us spend so much time online these days, social media and always need to be contactable. It would be harder just to disappear like Molloy or Moran now, but we've come up with so many brilliant ways of distracting ourselves from life and living.

 

I know I had other thoughts, but I still haven't managed to get my head around all of them yet. I definitely feel these were just made to be listened to though. Sean Barret does an incredible job, especially with the Unnamable, its just amazing to listen to the way he performs the text.

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Thanks very much for this Gryfynn, I found your review very interesting. I've never read Becket and did not know that he wrote novels, so I'll check him out.

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I've read other Beckett prose, but not this trilogy. I'm not sure enjoyed is the right word for what I got out of reading the four short works collected in the Penguin Modern Classic First Love and other novellas, as, like these, they are dense and difficult works, but worth putting the effort in. 

 

Although Beckett handles large concepts and initially seems bleak and depressing in the work I've either read or seen on stage, he leavens it with lashings of dark and absurd humour, and for me that's what makes his work accessible.   

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Although Beckett handles large concepts and initially seems bleak and depressing in the work I've either read or seen on stage, he leavens it with lashings of dark and absurd humour, and for me that's what makes his work accessible.   

 

This exactly! but it's also the moments of pure tenderness that make his work worth reading too. And the fact that he seems to know just the right amount of bleak hopelessness readers could possibly take before throwing in something completely absurd and terribly amusing. I found myself flicking between a terrible despair and rolling about laughing at some comments.

 

“The blue face! The obscene protrusion of the tongue! The tumefaction of the penis! The penis, well now, that's a surprise, I'd forgotten I had one. What a pity I have no arms, there might still be something to be wrung from it. No, 'tis better thus. At my age, to start manstuprating again, it would be indecent. And fruitless. And yet one can never tell. With a yo heave yo, concentrating with all my might on a horse's rump, at the moment when the tail raises, who knows, I might not go altogether empty-handed away. Heaven, I almost felt it flutter!” Samuel Beckett - The Unnamable

 

 

I have the complete short prose 1929-1989, but after 3 weeks of nothing but Beckett I really need a break, plus the audio for this recording doesn't seem to be as good, but I expect I will put the effort in later in the year.

 

I have only just today managed to pick up another book and start reading. I was literally unable to settle myself to another book after this, there was so much that was going through my brain.

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Yes, yes ,yes, to all of the above! This trilogy was a pure revelation when I read it 30 odd years ago. And, though I remember very little of it now, except for snapshots of the view when I looked up from the book to ponder, my biggest takeaway was realizing we all live in a solipsistic universe where we can never actually know what anyone else is thinking or experiencing. And that our individual world doesn't necessarily jibe with that of those around us, being a projection of our thoughts, dreams, emotions, and beliefs onto a neutral screen.

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:lol:  Dan, do you think that is the reason that we have trouble with the alternative universe of Donald Trump.

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This exactly! but it's also the moments of pure tenderness that make his work worth reading too. And the fact that he seems to know just the right amount of bleak hopelessness readers could possibly take before throwing in something completely absurd and terribly amusing. I found myself flicking between a terrible despair and rolling about laughing at some comments.

 

Agreed. I can't remember specifically about the book I mentioned above, but in the plays I've seen Beckett can show real compassion for his characters' plights. I'm thinking particularly of Happy Days and Endgame.

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the way I feel about it, it's really necessary to read the 3 books together, and because they are so deep, and in some ways complex, it probably does help to read them together. I don't think I could have left great big gaps between the two, but I really did feel wierd after nonstop Beckett for 3 weeks.

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the way I feel about it, it's really necessary to read the 3 books together, and because they are so deep, and in some ways complex, it probably does help to read them together. I don't think I could have left great big gaps between the two, but I really did feel wierd after nonstop Beckett for 3 weeks.

Thank you Gryfynn, that's exactly what I will do.

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Reading this thread made me decide to re-read the trilogy. And I am so glad I've begun! Much of it came back to me as I read, although my interpretation was different now. 
Besides a different interpretation I don't remember this as being as scathingly funny, in a very black humored way, as I found it to be upon this reading. Although I saw no humor at all in the humorless Moran until after his son had left him. 

Though the 'meaning' of any book lies primarily in the mind of the beholder, since the true rationale of the authors mind can never be plumbed, most books allow for only a limited number of interpretations. However Molloy by Samuel Beckett is not one of those books. I believe a case could be for this to represent a pro or con towards any religious/philosophical/ethical belief system known to mankind. Even calling it pro Christian could be done by inversion and mental gymnastics and recasting Molloy/Moran in the role of antichrist. However through my lens of Advaita Vedanta and Skepticism I view it as a refutation of our ability to ever know anything for sure about anything. I also agree with the possibility expressed up thread that Molloy and Moran are the same person, and that part two is actually a prequel to part one. The first piece of evidence for this point of view, although a bit sketchy, is that Molloy speaks in a couple of places of having a lost son and Moran's son disappears. But a more compelling argument is based on the similarity of the stiff leg syndrome that both Molloy and Moran experience. It seems that Youdi's orders to Moran were ambiguous because Moran wasn't supposed to do anything with Molloy,he was destined to turn into Molloy. This transformation is the ascent (or descent if you prefer) from empirical certainty into skepticism. But when I read this 30 years ago, with a much more literal and linear mindset thanI now have, I thought of it only in terms of the contrast between Moran's socially ethical/bureaucratic view of the world, where he can treat his son so miserably and abusively and justify it based on teaching what is proper and socially acceptable, versus one dedicated to freedom, even though the primary freedom Molloy employs is towards denial.

And now to Malone Dies. 

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This is a link to a Jungian analyses of Molloy. I don't agree with all of it ( heck, I don't even understand all of it:confused:) but it is fascinating, if a bit pedantic, and, since Beckett was a Jungian, I'm sure it has validity  

http://www.english.fsu.edu/jobs/num07/Num7Ohara.htm

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For me, Malone Dies was a paean to nihilism, an ode to the apparent meaningless of the human condition. Veering between heartbreaking humor, and just heartbreak, it runs the gamut of human emotions from cruelty to tenderness. And yet nothing ever actually happens except the ravings of a dying man. There is, in these first two novels, the systematic stripping away of everything one can use to hide from the appalling inevitability of our eventual non-existence. But it seems to suggest that peace, if not joy or even hope, can be found in acceptance of our fate- in fact not just accepting but embracing it. This is pure existentialism, and reminds me of Camus' statements in The Myth of Sisyphus. In an absurd world surrendering to the absurd obviously makes much more sense than struggling against it. 

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Some additional comments on these books; 

This is very dense and difficult reading. The lack of paragraphal breaks, and the different directions Beckett goes abruptly, requires a constant focus. Every word must be read, and cognized, or I suddenly find myself lost. There is a certain irony at having to work this hard at understanding, only to finally understand that he is saying that we can't know the truth of anything. When I read these books again, and I surely will since the prose is fantastic, and there seems great profundity here, I will do so more as a sort of catechism, reading only a few pages a day over a long period, so as to better ponder the implications of the paradox, ambiguity, and unreliability of perception, thought, and memory. 
The other thing I find particularly fascinating is that I would imagine there is a tendency to read these as the stories of peculiar individuals, or the ravings of madmen, but it seems to me that they describe the universal condition of humankind. We live our lives from a very limited perspective, telling ourselves stories about what we see, but even when the stories themselves have a certain interior logistical consistency we can never know for certain all of the underlying causes that led to these vignettes or the future consequences of these events. The narrative thread of our lives is clearly something we are making up as we go, and continually revising in the light of future happenings and a better understanding of the causal consequences of the past.  

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The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett has no plot, no action, and no character development. It is a wailing into the void, and the most black humored thing I've ever read, since it's humor is utterly devoid of hope, and yet scathingly honest in its portrayal of the mind of its narrator. 

Do we remember things, or merely remember the stories we told ourselves about things? Or are we possibly even more divorced from the so called facts, or what the video evidence would support, and remember only the stories we are told about the events. This sort of 3rd party mediation seems to be what plagues the Unnamable about Basil, or Mahood as he comes to be called. 

But then he suggests that he is Mahood. And also Worm. So it seems that he is saying we are different people entirely at different times of our life. Although Worm may well be our über soul, dreaming lives and personalities, coerced by ego into creating something to counteract Nothing, seduced by the idea of individuality and multiplicity. 
Conversely Worm may, and probably does in Beckett's mind, represent the retreat from the world into a shell, from which there is constant pressure, from whatever passes for your society, to burst out and rejoin the teeming hordes. 
This novel is a sustained, shrieking, soliloquy of spite, a pro-paranoia polemic against people and personality, an anthem of outrage against the uncertainty and futility inherent in human existence. As such it can often be highly entertaining, but eventually there would come a time in each of the sessions I spent reading this that the reading process itself started to feel like the literary equivalent of willingly bashing my face repeatedly into a wall. And I think one of the reasons may have been burnout from the 18 hours of reading time I invested in these 414 pages. For this reason I don't necessarily agree with @Gryfynn that these three books are best read back to back to back. 
Another reason, equally important, was that I couldn't find fault with Beckett's reasoning, and I was losing the will to live, or at least struggle on. Sometimes I'd think of a refutation for his hopelessness, but then a calm voice in my head would say 'Sure, if you want to lie to yourself about it'. But, there is much to be said for staring into the abyss, provided you don't jump, and I am very glad to have read these three books, and will certainly do so again. Just not for several years, and not as my main reading material. 
Edited by Dan

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