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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Waiting Is Over, 7 Mar 2009
By 
D. Kammerman - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940: v. 1 (Hardcover)
The wait is finally over! Nearly twenty years after Beckett's death, we at last glimpse the first foot of this four-volume beast. And what a remarkable thing _The Letters of Samuel Beckett: 1929-1940_ is. Whether you're a serious student of twentieth-century literature and theater already familiar with the tremendous force of Beckett's novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and translations, have a passing association with the extraordinary worlds Beckett created in such landmark works as _Waiting for Godot_ and _Endgame_, or are a relative newcomer simply curious about one of the most prolific, interesting, talented, and famous writers of the twentieth century, this brilliant collection of Beckett's early letters offers vast resources and captivating treasures for you.

Beyond the sheer number and scope of the letters--written from Paris, Dublin, London, Berlin to friends, family members, publishers, and a plethora of others, and opening a hitherto unseen window onto the private life and thoughts of Beckett--what most impresses is the portrait of the author they draw. Of course, there is his incredible erudition: his facility and playfulness with a number of different languages, his extensive knowledge of literature throughout history and role in the literature of his day, his far-reaching and astonishing discernment about the fine arts. The letters themselves are astoundingly well-written gems, showing Beckett's ability to craft deeply contemplative, mellifluous, and puckish prose all at once. Perhaps even more noteworthy, however, is that the humor and generosity suffusing the letters belie the unfortunately commonplace perception that Beckett's work is predominantly pessimistic, full of despair, etc. The Beckett we meet through the _Letters_ is an intelligent, thoughtful, and kind young man laboring to make his way and his name, attentive to those closest to him and to the rapidly changing world in which he was writing. Indeed, the _Letters_ abound with a playfulness, graciousness, generosity, self-effacing reticence, and quick-wit that leave the reader subtly smiling with delight and admiration more often than one might expect.

This is not to say that we don't find despair and shadows falling over the exposed corners of hope, as well as bile and a whole host of other bodily fluids, both routine and of sickness. However, through them pushes the relentless twinkle of good humor and facetiousness that ultimately gave us such lines as "I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on" (the very end of _The Unnamable_) or "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new" (the very beginning of _Murphy_) or, more contemporary with _The Letters of Samuel Beckett: 1929-1940_, the moment of Belacqua's wonderful epiphany, "splinters of vanquished toast spraying forth at each gnash," that "he had been abusing himself all these years in relating the strength of cheese directly to its greenness" (from "Dante and the Lobster").

The notes are copious and dense with helpful details about the characters in Beckett's life, publication histories, translations, his travels, and the mind-bogglingly vast literary and artistic references made in the letters. A word of advice to the reader not immediately or wholly entrenched in academic research or the labyrinths of twentieth-century literary history: read the letters first and then go back and read the notes--almost as though they were a separate book. In fact, you really get two books in one here: the letters and the notes. The notes are indeed so full of compelling information that only the most disciplined reader can keep his or her eye from constantly wandering away from the letters themselves. Yet, in doing so, one often loses the hypnotizing melody and wonderful resonance of Beckett's phrases. This is, above all, a beautiful book and the beginning of an extraordinary testimony to both the work and the man.

I could go on, but instead a bit of a letter as an amuse-bouche. About his "Sedendo and Quiescendo," Beckett writes to Charles Prentice, alluding to everything from bowel movements to Dante's _Paradiso_:
"When I imagine I have a real `twice round the pan & pointed at both ends' I'll offend you with its spiral on my soilman's shovel. I'm glad to have the thing back again in the dentist's chair. I still believe there's something to be done with it.
"I have just finished what I might describe as a whore's get version of Walking Out, the story I spoke to you of in London, & sent it to Pinker who won't be able to place it but will be annoyed I hope. That old dada is narrowing down at last to an apex and then I hope it will develop seven spectral petals."
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Young, sad and clever, 22 Nov 2009
By 
Hedlund Magnus (Gotland, Sweden) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940: v. 1 (Hardcover)
Letters from a young and aspiring writer, sad, funny, clever and moving but most of all young. And the footnotes are pure poetry.
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The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940: v. 1
The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940: v. 1 by Samuel Beckett (Hardcover - 5 Feb 2009)
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