Audiobook review: Molloy, by Samuel Beckett

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I have long been a fan of Samuel Beckett’s works. I first discovered him when I was in my early twenties, and soon became an avid reader of his fiction, which ranges from very short works to plays and novels. I was intrigued by the fact that this Irish author, who moved to France where he consorted with James Joyce, among others, decided, after World War II, to write in French. This prompted me to refresh my high-school French in order to read his works in the “original” language.

But Beckett’s choice of language went much further–he translated most of his own writings from French to English, and, when he later wrote in English again, translated those works into French. (Molloy is one of the rare exceptions: Beckett did not translate this novel into English on his own, but worked with Patrick Bowles, who rarely gets credit for this today.) Molloy was Beckett’s “breakout” novel, written in a style that would become his trademark: stark, minimal, even dark at times. Written in the same period as Waiting for Godot, Molloy started Beckett’s career as one of the world’s leading authors of fiction in that post-war period; it was followed by two other novels that are considered to be parts of a trilogy: Malone Dies and The Unnamable.The novel is in two parts, the first about and narrated by Molloy, a tramp who lives in a room somewhere writing things on pages for a man who comes and takes them away. The second part of the book is about Moran, a private detective sent to search for Molloy. It is hard to discuss the plot of this story without giving too much away, but it is one of the most powerful existential novels of the twentieth century.

Naxos has, in recent years, expanded their offerings from classical music to audiobooks, focusing first on classics, and now releasing many great works of Irish literature (such as James Joyce’s Ulysses). Molloy is brilliantly read by Sean Barrett and Dermot Crowley, both of whom work extensively for the BBC radio. The rhythms, tones and cadences of the reading fit with the stark nature of the work, without overdoing it; there is a risk of turning such a reading into a dismal recital, but these two readers manage to keep the text lively and emotional. The package includes notes by John Calder, who was Beckett’s British publisher for most of the author’s life, and who probably knows Beckett’s work more than anyone. This is an essential work of fiction, and a great reading.

(Coming soon: a review of Malone Dies, the second work in this trilogy.)