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on 8 February 2009
Murphy is the first novel by Samuel Beckett, published in 1938, before he gained fame as a playwright. The eponymous central character is an enigmatic figure, whose main aim in life is to avoid participation in normal human society and, particularly, employment. When he finally does bow to his girlfriend's ceaseless prodding to get a job, it is in a mental institution, where he derives contentment observing the behaviour of the inmates. Murphy is a silent, shadowy figure, yet the book's other characters are irresistibly drawn to him.

The thing that struck me most about this novel was the similarity of the style to that of the great Irish comic writer Flann O'Brien, particularly O'Brien's first novel At Swim-two-Birds, published in 1939. I can only assume O'Brien read Murphy and was inspired to mimic it, and perfect its unusual style. Or perhaps the similarity is down to the common influence of Joyce.

Murphy is my first experience of Beckett. It is a comedy, though a very dark one. It is an engaging read, far more so than Beckett's reputation would suggest. Murphy's anti-socialness and solipsism is perhaps a little disturbing, yet also intriguing.
Overall: recommended, and if you like it, I suggest you go on to read At Swim-Two-Birds, by a contemporary and compatriot of Beckett's, stylistically similar, also featuring a protagonist pathologically averse to work, and an extremely funny read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 September 2011
'Murphy' (published in 1938 but written largely in 1935) was Samuel Beckett's second, but first published novel. ('A Dream of Fair To Middling Women', written in 1932, was rejected, and published only after the author's death.) At that time he was known, if at all, as the author of a handful of short stories ('More Pricks Than Kicks', 1934), poems and learned essays, including a study of Proust (1931), and as a one-time associate and presumed epigone of James Joyce. His international reputation still lay far ahead of him.

In Murphy himself Beckett creates what is almost the prototype of the 'empty vessel' - a man who yearns for nothing except to be most completely himself. That that self emerges only when he is alone in a quiet room, strapped naked to a rocking chair, rocking himself towards nirvana, is a mere detail. Harried lovingly by Celia - surely the most unapologetic prostitute in literary history - to obtain employment, he prophesies disaster but out of pure inability to do otherwise sets out on the road to perdition or glory, pursued at a distance by Cooper - who never sits nor removes his hat - servant of Neary, Murphy's former spiritual advisor, who against his will discerns in Murphy the embodiment of his own nameless metaphysical lack.

It's worth reflecting that had the author succumbed to the murderous assault he suffered in Paris in 1938, or failed to survive the war he spent in occupied France, 'Murphy', rather than the famous plays or the post-war novels, would now be his major surviving contribution to literature. It's the work of a young man - barely thirty at the time of writing - and one of the most intelligent ever to set pen to paper. The Joycean influence is obvious enough in the relish for the unusual word, the taste for the recondite, and the ambition of the writing; 'Murphy' may be a short novel, but it is a remarkably concentrated one. It is Joycean also in the pungent satire at the expense of the Irish Free State and its inhabitants. But Beckett even at this time was too talented ever to be a mere imitator, and his personality - pessimistic, sceptical, scathing, misanthropic and yet curiously tender - too pronounced to be submerged. What emerges from the struggle with Joyce's influence is in some ways almost anti-Joycean in its directness and compression. After the war Beckett's language would be permanently changed in this direction: in 'Murphy' it still possesses all its original centrifugal energy.

'Murphy' recommends itself on a number of grounds. It is the funniest book I know. It contains some of Beckett's most memorably drawn characters and situations. It is exuberantly intelligent and demanding of the reader. It offers a masterclass in satirical comedy. It anticipates and predicts many of the moods and methods of postmodernist fiction. If there is a better novel of its kind I don't know of it.

[Readers who enjoy 'Murphy' and feel the need to explore the text in greater depth may find that they benefit from a reading of Demented Particulars: The Annotated 'Murphy': The Annotated 'Murphy' (Samuel Beckett) (Journal of Beckett Studies).]
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on 14 May 2014
I picked up 'Murphy' in a pause from reading Joyce's 'Ulysses'. Perhaps not the ideal respite from Joyce as Beckett's 'Murphy' suffers from the same deficiencies in clarity and sense. (How avant-garde readers will seethe!)

I'm not entirely a detractor. In fact, I have great admiration for Beckett's 'Molloy'. But, in my opinion, 'Murphy' does not possess the depth, focus and quality of humour achieved in 'Molloy'.

I'll admit that the initial attraction of 'Murphy' was the fully recorded chess game (Murphy v Mr Endon) toward the end of the novel - the idea intrigued me. Actually, it serves, in my view, as an apposite metaphor for the novel itself. Conforming, superficially, to the rules of the game (Beckett does indeed write grammatical sentences), yet utterly subverting the spirit of chess/the novel with outlandish, sometimes baffling, sometimes amusing, abstractions and obscurities.

For instance, Chapter 10 begins...

"Miss Counihan and Wylie were not living together!

The decaying Haydn, invited to give his opinion of cohabitation, replied: 'Parallel thirds.' But the partition of Miss Counihan and Wylie had more concrete grounds.

To begin with Miss Counihan, to begin with she was eager to get into the correct grass Dido cramp in plenty of time."

There's a little too much of this rather tiring terrain to trudge through, to my taste. It's not humorous, it doesn't add to character or scene, it just frustrates. The characters, possible excepting Murphy himself, are all very slight and insubstantial - almost comic book like. And their respective missions to unearth Murphy, unreal and hard to fathom. The novel is like a colourful, intricate, unravelling doodle.

The Murphy at the M.M.M. episodes were decidedly the most satisfying for me. Genuine blasts of insight into, and portrayal of, the absurdity and horror of the human condition conducted through the lightening rod of Murphy, the subcrazed sympathiser of the exiled and deranged. A suitable precursor to Molloy.
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on 28 June 2011
Some nice touches in this such as the protagonists penchant for rigorously obeying his astrology reading and the frequent use of medical terminologies.The prose is is quite complex in places and genius in others and it is easy to get lost in some of the dialogue, but the overall effect is satisfying enough to someone of moderate intellect such as myself.
In the introduction it is mentioned that some critics thought it pretentious in its intellectual style and it does suffer from trying to be too clever in places but I'll probably try a few more of this author to see how his style progresses.
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on 25 October 2014
What a delight to read. And why not with an Irish accent? Reading requires mental gymnastics (and therefore not too many pages at a time) as zany Irish characters chase Murphy around London in a stream of absurdities. Murphy is inclined to avoid work and tie himself up naked in a rocking chair, but eventually lands a job in a mental facility. One is tempted to Google the frequent curious phrases and literary and historical references that litter every paragraph of the story, but that would interrupt the flow of such likeable and humorous surrealism. If done, you discover that such phrases as ‘post-golgothian kitty’, ‘fake-jossy’s sixpenny writ’, and ‘fourpenny vomitory’, to mention only three, which have invariably spawned countless analyses on Beckett’s work. Many gem words, too, ‘voltefesses’ being one of my favourites. But the writing is so rich that any extractions fail to do justice to the whole. One reading is far from enough.
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on 23 June 1999
Has a work of literature ever had a more enigmatic (anti-)hero? From our opening glimpse of Murphy sitting naked in his old rocking-chair to his grimly comic death (he mistakes the gas-tap for the lavatory chain) we find out very little about the main protagonist. He rarely speaks, a sullen presence who often ignores the attentions of his devoted girlfriend and eventually chooses to work in a mental institution rather endure than the stability of married life. All we really learn about is his selfishness (and ennui). Yet around this unattractive hero Beckett has created a comic masterpiece. There is an almost Dickensian gallery of supporting characters, from Murphy's cockney landlady to the dreadful Ticklepenny, not to mention a motley crew of Irishmen pursuing Murphy around London. From the opening sentence ('The sun shone on the nothing new') the prose crackles with invention, and in terms of innovation this work is fully the equal of a Joyce or a Kafka. When Murphy plays chess against a hypomanic inmate of the mental institution, Beckett notates the game in full; when he introduces his heroine he forgoes description in favour of a table of her characteristics. The humour, always ironic, often descends to the black, while the work also shows a philosophical intent more typical of later works. In fact, the novel is placed at an interesting point in Beckett's output, where this philosophical concern is beginning to be apparent, but the virtuosic linguistic invention has yet to be abandoned. This means that this tale of 'a seedy solipsist' is rich and yet instantly appealing.
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on 11 September 2014
Utterly brilliant. I read this over twenty years ago as part of my degree. Now I have to ask, where is the comparison to A Girl is A Half Formed Thing by EMB? Beckett conveys absurdity through well ordered language. The other doesn't. Bravo Beckett
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on 5 February 2015
Samuel Beckett; enough said.
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on 20 September 2015
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on 21 December 2014
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