Monday, February 7, 2011

Samuel Beckett: It Might Just Be Love

I am reading Samuel Beckett's trilogy of novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable) right now. When I think of Beckett, I generally think of Waiting for Godot and the clever sort of Shakespearean dialogue and the senseless thrashing about of the protagonists. I don't tend to associate Beckett with beautiful prose, but that's changing. Consider this excerpt from Malone Dies:

The birds. Numerous and varied in the dense foliage they lived without fear all the year round, or in fear only of their congeners, and those which in summer or winter flew off to other climes came back the following winter or the following summer, roughly speaking. The air was filled with their voices, especially at dawn and dusk, and those which set off in flocks in the morning, such as the crows and starlings, for distant pastures, came back the same evening all joyous to the sanctuary, where their sentinels awaited them. The gulls were many in stormy weather which paused here on their flight inland. They wheeled long in the cruel air, screeching with anger, then settled in the grass or on the house-tops, mistrustful of the trees.

That's just amazing writing, kids, and no mistaking.

"to other climes came back"
"came back the same evening all joyous to the sanctuary"
"wheeled long in the cruel air"
"mistrustful of the trees"

It's like Beckett is taking a pry bar to his sentences and opening them up somehow to let even more amazing beauty shine through between the already-beautiful phrases. I think about my soon-to-be-begun next book and I look at Beckett's work in these three novels and I think that maybe I have found something I can lean on to get me through the work. A sort of Virgil to guide me across the Inferno, if you will. What I've maybe been looking for in terms of voice, I say. Maybe. I was thinking Henry James at first, but perhaps what was missing in my imaginary first draft was the sound of Irish prose poetry. I should re-read my Joyce and Heaney as well.

You may laugh, but all of this gets me excited to start writing the next novel.


  1. Anything that gets Mr. Bailey excited for his writing has got to be good!

  2. I warn you that you haven't seen the entire list of Things That Get Bailey Excited Enough To Write, and that some of the items on that list might be Very Bad Indeed. I'm not saying that any of them are, but I warn you that some of them might be. Let's not open doors we'll wish we'd left shut, eh? Just saying.

    And yes, I'm just trying to build an air of sinister mystery for no reason at all. Just because I can.

    Also, you should email your snail mail address to me so I can send you your Highly Prized Hello Kitty Pen and possibly other parting gifts for our contestants.

  3. You manage your mystique quite expertly...

  4. I just make it up as I go along. But the real trick to maintaining mystique is to be inconsistent and contradictory.

  5. Amazing writing like that always gets me excited to work on my own stuff.

  6. I have finally found something suitable in which to mail Nevets the pen and he's supplied his location. So I won't have Hello Kitty Rollerball for much longer.

    I wonder if Beckett would've used a Hello Kitty pen? I bet he wore a special hat just for writing, like Jo in Little Women.

  7. I wear special clothes when I write. They are called pajamas.

  8. Oo! Envy! Do they have ponies on them?

  9. No. They are plaid. I need some pony pajamas. I think I'd write better with pony pajamas.

  10. I wear my scrubs from the forensic anthro lab.