Samuel Beckett's Letters: Book of the Year?

TLS asks a host of writers and critics
The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1939-1940

A recent article in the Times Literary Supplement prompted a host of writers, poets and critics to suggest their personal choices for books of the year. Among them, Gabriel Josipovici, Seamus Heaney, Stefan Collini, and Paul Muldoon plumped for volume one of The Letters of Samuel Beckett:
Gabriel Josipovici: The first volume of Beckett's letters, The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1939-1940 (Cambridge), was the funniest, most intelligent and most poignant book I read this year, and since three more volumes are promised by CUP we should be moved and entertained for some years to come. [...]

Seamus Heaney: The most bracing read was The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940 (Cambridge), a portrait of a Dubliner as a young European with a hard gemlike gift for language, learning and mockery. Beckett's genius exercises itself most exuberantly in the correspondence with Thomas MacGreevy, another Irish poet more at home in Paris, his senior but his soulmate. Constantly Beckett is veering between certainty about his need to write and doubt about the results, all expressed in prose that is undoubting, delighted and demanding. [...]

Stefan Collini: The letters of major writers can be disappointing, illustrating in polite detail that their authors' creative energies were absorbed elsewhere. But this is spectacularly not the case with Beckett, who emerges from the first of a projected four volumes of his correspondence, The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-1940 (Cambridge) as a gloriously fertile and exuberant letter writer, out-Joyceing Joyce in his tangy multilingual playfulness. The letters are full of literary substance, too, as he inches towards his life's task of finding ways to speak of what lies beyond silence and despair. They also exhibit his idiosyncratic but passionate responsiveness to the other arts, especially painting, and his alert comprehension of the threatening political situation of 1930s Europe. This edition has been many years in the making, slowed by legal complexities as well as by the formidable challenge of Beckett's scrawl in several languages, but it is a triumph. The introductory and supplementary material is well-judged and helpful, the annotations and identifications are tirelessly thorough. The later Beckett famously declared that "every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness," but these letters are packed with wonderfully necessary words.

Paul Muldoon: One of the highlights of the year was the publication of The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-1940, edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck (Cambridge). Every page is a hoot. Beckett comes across as even smarter, and more smarting, than one already knew. I think of his description of Old Possum's translation of Saint John Perse as being "very uneven. Good when he drops the text altogether", or of Poussin being "beyond praise & appraisement", or of Proust being "so absolutely the master of his form that he becomes its slave as often as not". [...]

Excerpted from 'Books of the Year'
Times Literary Supplement, 27 November 2009
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