A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett

A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett

A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett

A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett

Excerpt

The reader of Samuel Beckett may want a Guide chiefly to fortify him against irrelevant habits of attention, in particular the habit of reading 'for the story'. Beckett does not write mood-pieces or prose-poems; he has always a story, though it is often incomplete and never really central to what we are reading. One radio script, Embers, in thirty-six pages of widelyspaced type, contains a plot interesting and intricate enough to serve for a longish novel, thought out by the author in the kind of concrete scenic detail he would need if he were planning that novel, and yet the story is not really important. What is important is that we shall experience the wreckage the story has left, the state of the man who has lived it in being the selfish man he was. All day he has the sound of the sea in his head, and he sits talking, talking, to drown out that sound, and summons up ghostly companions, his drowned father, his estranged wife, not because he ever enjoyed their company but because their imagined presence is better than the selfconfrontations solitude brings.

Again and again the Beckett plays and books are like that. By the time we arrive on the scene, as readers or as spectators, the story is over, and what is left is a situation amidst which it is being recalled, not always fully enough for us to reconstruct it as we can the story of Embers. We may make a loose comparison, if it helps, between this aspect of Beckett's procedures and those of a writer also thought obscure in his time, and the subject, once, of many Reader's Guides: the Robert Browning of the dramatic monologues, contrivances from which we can reconstruct past events if we wish, though the poet's interest . . .

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