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This review is from: The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 2, 1941-1956 (Hardcover)
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This second volume of correspondence covers the years from 1941 to 1956, and includes the author's various artistic, commercial and legal concerns relating to the evolution and assimilation of some of his most important and interesting works, such as Watt, Mercier and Camier, The End, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable and, of course, Waiting for Godot. There are also many insights into the 'ordinary' life of the man as well as the writer, as he discusses everything from nagging colds to exciting excursions to the music hall and the theatre. One cannot really summarise such a vast range of letters to so many different kinds of correspondents, but one can certainly confirm that any reader will encounter innumerable fascinating details as he or she moves from page to page. One little piece of trivia, for example, occurs in a letter written in 1955, when Beckett relates, with a hint of excitement, that a New York promoter was attempting to stage Godot on Broadway with Buster Keaton as Vladimir and Marlon Brando as Estragon. Another tiny but intriguing remark occurs in a letter dated the following year, when (eight years before the making of Film) the author expresses his disenchantment with the cinema, writing: 'The cinema was killed in the cradle and if ever there is an Elijah to lie himself down on the corpse I won't be there to profit by it'. There are also many passages when, during the course of accounting the prosaic details of his everyday life, his style, his syntax, is the most interesting aspect of the discussion (e.g. 'I'm writing one short act straight into English. Nothing better to do here. I've planted some trees, including a cedar of Lebanon. I've seen no-one').
As far as the production of the book itself is concerned, the paper quality is rather better than that of the previous volume, but there is still a nagging feeling that, with no fewer than four distinct editors, there were 'too many cooks' involved in the preparation, with some of the overly intricate and/or dubious footnotes creating a messy look without contributing much in the way of enlightenment. The index, too, is much too basic and imprecise for a book such as this, and will not be of much help to anyone who is searching for specific details among the 692 pages of text. In general, however, the format - which, as with the previous volume, presents each letter first in the language in which it was written, followed by an English language translation - works well, and most of the additional explanatory material, such as the appendix of brief profiles of some of the figures discussed, is potentially very useful.
For any student and/or admirer of Samuel Beckett and his work this volume will be an essential reference book, as well as a treasure trove of tiny but telling insights. I'm certainly very grateful to have it.