Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

For my second review here on Eleven and a Half Years of Books, I decided to get ambitious. I like to think of myself as a relatively intelligent guy. As such, I thought I’d take on Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett. Incidentally, this Beckett trilogy is officially the victor of the contest.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 9th for Paul Auster and Molloy by itself was 10th for Lydia Millet.)

I did enjoy reading immensely. When I read Molloy I thought I was doing pretty good. After all, I sort of understood what was going on. It was weird, but fun. Mind you, that did not mean I exactly knew what was going on.

After all, in part I of Molloy, we hear from Molloy. Molloy is a disabled former vagrant who now lives in his mother’s room. There is somebody who comes to pick up the pages he writes and give him money:

            I am in my mother’s room. It’s I who live there now. I don’t know how I got there. Perhaps in an ambulance, certainly a vehicle of some kind. I was helped. I’d never have got there alone. There’s this man who comes every week. Perhaps I got here thanks to him. He says not. He gives me money and takes away the pages.

Molloy tells about a time in his past when he was wandering around (getting picked up by the police for lewdly resting on his bicycle, running over a woman’s dog and then having to live with her for a time, killing a charcoal-burner in the woods) trying to get to his mother’s. In the end of his section, he gets taken to the room where he writes.

Then, in part II, we hear from Malone. Malone is some kind of agent hired to look for Molloy. So, he takes his son off to go look for Molloy. However, his son ditches him, his leg goes bad for mysterious reasons, and he can’t even remember what he is supposed to do should he ever find Molloy:

            The day seemed very long. I missed my son! I busied myself as best I could. I ate several times. I took advantage of being alone at last, with no other witness than God, to masturbate. My son must have had the same idea, he must have stopped on the way to masturbate. I hoe he enjoyed it more than I did… I surrendered myself to the beauties of the scene, I gazed at the trees, the fields, the sky, the birds, and I listened attentively to the sounds, faint and clear, borne to me on the air. For an instant I fancied I heard the silence mentioned, if I am not mistaken, above. Stretched out in the shelter, I brooded on the undertaking in which I was embarked. I tried again to remember what I was to do with Molloy, when I found him.

Things don’t really get better for Malone. In fact, his injuries and tribulations resemble Molloy’s story in some ways. Molloy and Malone might even be the same person, perhaps part II being a prequel to part I and Malone eventually becoming the Molloy of part I, whether or not there ever was a real Molloy that he was looking for.

However, Molloy is relatively straightforward when compared to Malone Dies. I am unsure if the Malone of Malone Dies is the same Malone of Molloy or not. He may be, but he also may not.

Regardless, Malone is writing in the room of an institution of some kind, waiting for death. He can barely get around, using a stick to reach the few possessions in the room that haven’t been taken from him. Other than describing his room and his wait for death, Malone does little other than tell stories:

I must have thought about my time-table during the night. I think I shall be able to tell myself four stories, each one on a different theme. One about a man, another about a woman, a third about a thing and finally one about an animal, a bird probably. I think that is everything. Perhaps I shall put the man and the woman in the same story, there is so little difference between a man and a woman, between mine I mean…

However, despite the above, he really only tells the story of a man named Sapo, whose name Malone changes to Macmann at some point in the narrative and may really be Malone. After all, Malone is dying in a room of some kind of institution. At some point in the story about Sapo (Macmann by this point), Sapo is also dying in a room of some kind of institution. The book breaks off with a tale about Macmann being taken on a trip by a nurse where the nurse starts killing other patients (before I assume being killed by Macmann or Malone).

Still, as much as Malone Dies is Harder to figure out than Molloy, it is downright simplistic when compared to The Unnamable. The Unnamable is one long, disjointed monologue. I couldn’t discern any plot, structure, or much of anything else. I couldn’t even figure out who is delivering the monologue. It’s just a hair easier to follow than Finnegans Wake. All I can do is quote a small section:

They are not interested in me, only in the place, they want the place for one of their own. What can one do but speculate, speculate, until one hits on the happy speculation? When all goes silent, and comes to an end, it will be because the words have been said, those it behoved to say, no need to know which, no means of knowing which, they’ll be there somewhere, in the heap, in the torrent, not necessarily the last, they have to be ratified by the proper authority, that takes time, he’s far from here, they bring him the verbatim report of the proceedings, once in a way, he knows the words that count, it’s he who chose them, in the meantime the voice continues, while the messenger goes towards the master, and while the master examines the report, and while the messenger comes back with the verdict, the words continue, the wrong words, until the order arrives, to stop everything or to continue everything, no, superfluous, everything will continue automatically, until the order arrives, to stop everything.

I think you can see what I mean.

Now, I enjoyed reading the whole book, but there was a tradeoff as I moved further in. As I kept reading, the writing became increasingly impressive in the achievement alone. I mean, The Unnamable is downright astounding. However, the further I got the less I understood. The Unnamable was just way more than I could ever understand.

So, in the end? Well, I’m not really sure. There is some extremely impressive writing in here, but I doubt I’ll ever try rereading any of this again except Molloy. There are some who understand and really get into this sort of writing, and I recognize and admit its brilliance, but it’s just too much for me. I’ll chicken out and spend my time reading something that’s a little easier for me to get a handle on. Hey, I tried at least, right?

2 responses to “Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

  1. I thoroughly concur with your frank assessment. I’ve re-read molloy and malone dies, but something tells me i’ll never get a real grasp on the unnameable (even the final third of malone leaves me generally confused). There’s a good collection of essays on the book (edited by harold bloom), it definitely sheds some much-needed light on some aspects.

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