Nina Power on Samuel Beckett's How It Is

From The Guardian's 'A book that changed me' series
Samuel Beckett
From Nina Power (The Guardian):
Not a single punctuation mark breaks the relentlessness of the text, yet the prose is anything but flowing. Gasps of minimal communication, oblique memories and brittle reflections on love rise up from some sort of mire, snatches of a monologue broken by the mud that engulfs the narrator, allowing only the briefest flurry of words before sinking back down again. Samuel Beckett's text sounds austere, bleak and difficult, and his prose work in general is less celebrated than the plays. But How It Is is moving in its minimalism and, in a strange way, the best description of love I've ever encountered (bar the real-life story of Nadine Vaujour, who learned how to fly a helicopter so she could – successfully – break her husband out of jail).

I first read How It Is while working a summer job (for €30 a week, if I recall correctly) at a French tourist office in a very small town in the Loire valley. It happened to be fairly near a town named Ch√Ęteauneuf-sur-Loire, a linguistic coincidence that caused occasional confusion among tourists thinking they had stumbled on the place where the far more famous wine whose name also begins with "Ch√Ęteauneuf" was made.

While a large part of my duties involved trying to flog only slightly inferior local wine to these visitors, I also had plenty of time to sit about and read, and try to improve my French, which I was convinced would mean that the secrets of philosophy would open themselves up to me, like an oyster revealing a pearl. Of course, I forgot that a pearl is really just the product of irritation, and besides, the oyster dies when you open it. [Read More]

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