The second in a series of 13 book reviews written in my pre-blogging years.
MOLLOY by Samuel Beckett (First published in English – translated from French – in 1955)
He gives impressions of people and places through images rather than details. He pointedly avoids using descriptions, apparently regarding them as superfluous. Of a bicycle he writes : “I would gladly write four thousand words on it alone” but does not do so!
The novel is divided into two sections, both written in the first person singular. The first is by Molloy, the second is by Moran. Through these two characters Beckett explores the central themes of freedom, doubt and human frailty.
At first the two elderly men seem dissimilar aside from the fact that they are both world-weary. Gradually they become to seem like one of the same person with Moran as the public face of Molloy.
Moran’s comment that “As soon as two things are nearly identical, I am lost”, is therefore highly significant.
Each slowly becomes aware of their failings. They have tried trusting in others but now feel disillusioned. Molloy says “All the things you would do gladly, oh, without enthusiasm but gladly, all the things there seems to be no reason for your not doing and that you do not do! Can it be that we are not free? It might be worth looking into”.
One of the novel’s key themes is the notion of personal liberty combined with the pressure to present an image of certainty to the world : “people need to be encouraged in their bitter toil and have before their eyes manifestations of strength only, of courage and of joy, without which they might collapse at the end of the day and roll around”.
Molloy/Moran drift aimlessly from pillar to post with only the vaguest idea of their motives. Moran is searching for Molloy but he does not know why. Molloy is seeking his mother even though he knows that even if he finds her she will not recognize him. Molloy notes: “….in me there have always been two fools, among others, one asking nothing better than to stay where he is and the other imagining that life might be slightly less horrible a little further on”.
In their increasing isolation they see the darkness of the world and their unavoidable role within it. Though the perspective is uniformly dark, Beckett writes with compassion for those who feel lost, alone and weak; those for whom freedom has no significance:
“…free to do what, to do nothing, to know, but what, the laws fo the mind perhaps, of the mind, that for example water rises in proportion as it drowns you and that you would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what it is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery”.
In the face of this universal bleakness, we can conclude that we are better off, at least no worse off, being true to ourselves.