I’m going to be honest, I did not get what the point of Molloy was.
Oooh, it was Beckettian; it felt like a Beckett play but wasn’t, was it, because it’s a novel? It was a bit confusing, made a few references to sex and a lot of references to bodily decay, to loss of identity and to ageing, and it came in a pricey volume published by Faber and is over-rated, over-rated, over-rated. It’s that over-rated.
Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy is over-rated, modernist crap and I would advise anyone considering reading it to put it down and have a hard look at themselves in the mirror about what kind of an impression they want to give of themselves, because Molloy is a book that gives minimal pleasure to a reader but affords them the opportunity to look intellectual, gifted, literary, verbose, trendy and… I don’t know what else, but I find it hard to believe ANYONE has EVER enjoyed reading this book, and if anyone claims to have done so, they were probably saying it in the hope it would make them look intelligent. I am many things, but I am not pretentious. I can still feel like a snobbish, literary bastard and publish online my opinion that: “Molloy by Samuel Beckett is a terrible novel.”
Because it’s boring as shit.
What is Molloy for? It is difficult (not really difficult, though – this is important) and all modernist without giving anything back. At all. Conrad is difficult but writes exciting, swashbuckling plots. Virginia Woolf is difficult but makes me cry. Malcolm Lowry is difficult but writes heart-breaking awful alcoholic tragedies. James Joyce is difficult but sometimes, sometimes, he writes mind-blowingly beautiful prose that perfectly encapsulates the human condition. But then a lot of the time he just jizzes his intellect over a page. And that’s just Beckett’s fellow modernists.**
Beckett’s novel is in two sections. The first is about an old man wandering around in some semi-absurd situations with his weak body, and Beckett uses only one paragraph for 90 pages or something. The second half uses paragraphs properly, but is about a slightly less old man wandering around in some semi-absurd situations with his body weakening, who is ostensibly looking for the first old man, but in reality seems to be turning into him.
People in the fifties were so fucking easily impressed. This novel may be radical in its use of punctuation and in its small amount of explicit sex***, but all this had been done 30 years earlier and (I hate to praise Joyce twice in the same blog) much better. Molloy is full of some of the dullest passages I’ve ever read. Ten pages about someone discussing how they can move stones around their pockets. Twenty pages about dinner routines or corporate structures. I wasn’t bored because I didn’t understand it, I was bored because I did understand it and felt the whole exercise tedious.
We all age, we lose control of our bodies and our memories and often become lonely because of this. Human connections are essential for the maintenance of health and sanity. Literature can be used to explore slowly developing dementia. Literature can be used to explore the mind of a dull man in detail.
And that’s just it. It’s simple. Everything interesting Beckett had to say he said with far more terseness in Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape and Happy Days. Everything I’ve read by the man outside of those three plays has been a tiresome rehashing of the ideas contained within them. Molloy predates those plays, so is perhaps forgiveable as a trial run. Plays like Endgame, though, are just self-derivative and have very little to offer anyone who’s already read Waiting for Godot and doesn’t think that the idea of life being pointless is profound, man. Beckett, to me, is little more than a stoner’s Joyce. (Please read a lot of sneering into that sentence.)
Molloy is the most over-rated and unenjoyable novel I’ve had the misfortune to read for months. It is slow, it is boring, it isn’t funny, it isn’t sad, it isn’t clever, it didn’t make me think, cry, laugh or receive an erection. It did NOTHING for me. At all.
There is one thing Beckett does well in here, and that is the obscene, scatological image. Which is a shit thing to be good at.
Every fifty pages or so a sentence or an idea is witty or charming or wise. But the book is 200 pages long. That is FOUR sentences that amused or entertained me in the whole thing. They were (I made notes):
p. 17: “I managed somehow. Being ingenious.” How droll.
p. 111: “But to me at least, who knew how to listen to the falsetto of reason […]” The Falsetto of Reason would be a good name for a shit band.
p. 158: “a thin red mouth that looked as if it was raw from trying to shit its tongue.” Gorgeous image.
p. 174: “I would get there on all fours shitting out my entrails and chanting maledictions.” Which is brilliant, I may try to use it as an epigraph somewhere.
But those are the four good bits. All of them. And you’ve already read them.
Do not bother with Molloy. I find it hard to believe any of Beckett’s other novels are good, either. AVOID MOLLOY. Avoid Beckett’s prose. Avoid anything that people read in order to feel clever.
Together, we can get this turgid novel out of print.
* As in, “Why do I think it is bad?”, not, “Why do I feel comfortable announcing that?” The second one should be self-explanatory.
** David Foster Wallace, Laurence Sterne and Thomas Pynchon are all difficult but get away with it by being hilarious. For three non-modernist examples.
*** Scandalise me, Sam, go on, I dare you! Oh, wait. You couldn’t!
Sometimes an altered state of mind helps. Not that I’m suggesting a particular substance or direction, but rather speaking from experience way back with a specific Pynchon novel.
I have not read this yet, so can’t comment on this particular phase of prose, however, having dipped into The Expelled I can understand the sensation of aridity you experienced reading it. Try Murphy, it’s less tied up with language games and much more entertaining, I Think you would like it.
loved this review. so true
There are plenty of aphorisms in this book. Beckett is advanced reading amd not for everyone. You all are not alone in critiquing him. However, like much Beckett criticism, you’ll never get anything out of it by acting like you’re too smart for it. Here’s a tip: it’s philosophical.
Molloy is hilarious. In aphorisms and plot.
Like when he swings to kick the charcoal-hunter with crippled legs, falls, then does the other side for the sake of symmetry.
The prose eventually builds into a certain rhythm like a shitty edm song with good drops enough to sustain it.
I eventually came to like it, and will reread it.
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I should probably look at it again. I’m older now.
this review was disappointing to read
Lol u read it!!!
I have to agree I really cant stand this pretentious asshole. No wonder he had no friends
Beckett or smh??
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I realise that this review is 7-8 years old by now, but I’m sorry you weren’t particularly impressed with Molloy. That’s understandable. The novel concerns itself with two long-winded monologues and the ‘plot’ (or lack of it) is not particularly exciting. However, like other Beckett works, I think the sense of monotony actually contributes to the fantastic humour. The entire Trilogy is written in such a strange and convoluted way, focusing on negation and managing to blend genuinely moving passages with vicious dry-wit:
“That night was not like the other night, if it had been I would have known. For when I try and think of that night, on the canal-bank, I find nothing, nothing but Molloy in the ditch, and perfect silence, and behind my closed lids the little night and its little lights” (Three Novels 23).
“His death must have hurt him less than my fall me. And at least he was dead” (Three Novels 30).
I would advise giving Molloy another shot (as well as Malone Dies and The Unnamable). They just get progressively stranger (and arguably better, in my opinion).
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Hi Leni, you’re probably right and I probably should give Beckett another go as an older and wiser reader (and human). I’ve certainly enjoyed both other works by Beckett and works by people directly inspired by him since, so would probably be to my advantage to have a reappraisal! Thank you for reading and commenting constructively – have had a few “Beckett Bros” get pretty aggy after reading this post!