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Not All There
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.