Book Review

Endgame by Samuel Beckett

Photo on 04-01-2015 at 21.52 #2

Like most pretentious teenagers who go on to study English Literature as an undergraduate then sink into an unhappy morass when faced by the reality of the adult, working, world, I used to love Waiting for Godot. I read it many times: in drama classes in sixth form, in modern drama classes at university, and later for the kind of “life is awful and will always be awful”-affirming fun that I used to chase in the dark years of my early twenties.* I’m older now, though. Wiser, too, happier, better read, smarter, more analytical, more self-aware, self-confident and (gently) more arrogant.** I’m a better person. And I thus associate existentialism as a genre with teenage/self-indulgent wallowing. Endgame, Samuel Beckett’s follow-up to WfG*** is something I may have read before, but certainly not in this snazzy modern edition and certainly not for about a decade if I had. But did I like it as an adult? Did it make me feel saaaaaad?

Yes, I liked it.

And yes, it made me cry.

By the end of the third page I was sighing a little, with the dialogue feeling a bit like Godot-lite. There were moments of “cleverness” throughout that teenage me would have marvelled at, but to a more mature reader they feel a little stale. It felt like a Beckett play, a lot like a Beckett play, and though that meant it was solidly interesting, it also meant that there were lots of lines I felt I’d read before.

This isn’t just a case of style – this is jokes created in the same way, this is the repetition of the same idea using repeated structure and language. Granted, Shakespeare repeated things, but he (unlike Beckett) wasn’t concerned with originality. An originality used to express the terrible reality of mortality and the mundaneity of all existence. Which is almost ironic.

But if you ignore the moments where Beckett repeats himself, there are some moments of quite beautiful poignancy in Endgame: discussion of ageing, love, physical decline, fear, loneliness and family. There is affection and the lack of it, dependency and the idea that no individual can ever be truly independent. It made me cry, more than once. It is quite frequently an engaging text.

It’s good, I suppose, but it’s not as good as Waiting for Godot and it is – for me, though perhaps not for all readers – irritatingly similar to the earlier play. If it was produced near me I’d probably go and see it, but not if it took me more than half an hour to get to the theatre…

Good, but not brilliant. Worth reading, but not essential reading.



* Those dark years are over, just to clarify, but if you scroll back far enough on this blog you can probably catch a little bit of their tail end…

** Though not as arrogant as I was as a teenager. Over the last year I think I’ve managed to find that hallowed middle ground between my 16 year old self constantly demanding attention (lots of public stripping) and my 23 year old self hiding at social functions in order to avoid conversation. That middle ground consists, essentially, of making my public nudity online-only. See, for example, my recent Christmas video:

*** This acronym appears throughout my teenage (and later) notebooks.

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