Monday, December 18, 2017

Molloy by Samuel Beckett

Let me tell you this, when social workers offer you, free, gratis and for nothing, something to hinder you from swooning, which with them is an obsession, it is useless to recoil, they will pursue you to the ends of the earth, the vomitory in their hands.  The Salvation Army is no better.  Against the charitable gesture there is no defence, that I know of.  You sink your head, you put out your hands all trembling and twined together and you say, Thank you, thank you lady, thank you kind lady.

Molloy is a vagrant on his way to meet his aged mother.  He gets waylaid: he is arrested for sitting on bicycle in a suggestive way; he accidentally runs over and kills a woman's dog; he is invited to live with that women (in place of her dog?); he kills a man in the forest.  It's never clear how long these digressions take, because Molloy's sense of time is fragmented; it could be years.  He write this story from what seems to be a kind of cell, where every now and then a man comes to take his pages away and return to him edited pages, which he does not read.

His work is peppered with aphorisms: "The fact is," he tells us, "it seems, that the most you can hope for is to be a little less, in the end, the creature that you were in the beginning, and the middle."  His style is confused but somehow, grammatically, at least, hyperclear, the stylistic effect of Beckett's method of writing in French and translating himself back into his native language, English.  He talks a lot about his body: his bad leg, and his farting.  The modernists all love pooping and farting, and Beckett's no different.  All in all, he gives an image of the world seen from the outside, not in the gritty mode of the social realist, but from the distance needed to see through the false bourgeois assurances of social realism.  He never does make it to his mother.

And then, the book shifts: done with Molloy, we follow an investigator, Jacques Moran, who has been tasked with tracking down Molloy.  For what purpose, we don't know, and neither does Moran.  Though he's less quotable than Molloy, I enjoyed Moran's half of the book--and they are almost perfectly balanced, 85 pages each--a little more.  I loved his anal retentiveness, his fastidious grumpiness, and the cruelty with which he treats his son, who he demands accompany him on this journey.  (No, Jacques Jr. cannot bring his stamp collection along.)  Along the way, Moran's body begins to fail him.  His leg starts to go wonky, and he demands his son go into town to buy him a bicycle.  He begins to take on Molloy's mannerisms--small things, like tying his hat to the lapel of his coat.

Is Moran turning into Molloy?  The novel suggests that Moran's part comes after Molloy's, but the conclusion is difficult to escape.  It's like the highbrow version of every dumb detective story where the detective turns out to be the killer.  We become what we seek, maybe.  If so, Molloy's vagrancy might redeem the uptight smallness of Moran's life.  But then again, what becomes of his son?  And where did he get this mother?  There's no answer to those questions, of course, although Beckett lulls us into forgetting that Molloy and Moran are nothing but fictional constructs of people, nothing more than what we see on the page.  And he does it not through, again, social realism, but the construction of a little circular puzzle that seems like it ought to resolve but--like life in the 20th century--doesn't.

No comments: