Most readers come to Samuel Beckett through a reading of one of his famous plays. 'Waiting For Godot' in particular is a set text in many schools. The irony of this is that most of these readers go no further than the relatively approachable dramatic works, and so remain unaware of the range and difficulty of Beckett's achievements in prose. Where to start with the latter?
'Molloy', composed during the same period as 'Godot', is actually Beckett's fifth novel, after 'Dream of Fair To Middling Women' (written in 1932 but not published until 1993), 'Murphy' (1938), 'Watt' (1941-45, published 1953) and 'Mercier and Camier' (written in French from 1946 but not published until 1970 in French and in altered form in English in 1974). 'Molloy' (1951 in French) also forms the first part of Beckett's loose 'Trilogy' but does not need to be read in that form to be appreciated.
The reader who comes to 'Molloy' without any other preparation will encounter difficulties, but should persist. Beckett has little interest in the conventional presentation of narrative and plot: 'Molloy' hangs together it seems by the sheer force of will of its characters as embodied in their speaking voices. Those voices are sometimes confused, sometimes infuriatingly repetitive or obsessive. Meaning emerges cumulatively.
The novel is divided into two halves, which suggests a structure based on both repetition and mirroring. Each presents the story of a man - Molloy and Moran respectively - engaged on a journey: in Molloy's case, to visit his mother; in Moran's, to find Molloy. So far, so simple. But in both cases the task proves almost impossible to complete. Beckett drags the reader through literal and figurative forests and wildernesses in pursuit of goals that may be completely illusory, in which simple physical tasks take on obscure spiritual significance, and in which the only certainty is bodily and mental disintegration. Molloy's narrative is the wilder and more difficult; Moran's the more studied and - only apparently - straightforward. Throughout, Beckett demonstrates why he is regarded as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century - certainly the most significant in this mode since Kafka - and incidentally why he is one of the funniest, so long as your taste is for gallows humour.
A work of existentialist genius, easily the equal of 'Godot', but not recommended for the impatient. 'Mercier and Camier' or the sublime 'Murphy' might be an easier way in for the unsure.