Molloy by Samuel Beckett: My Contribution to the #1951 Club

Karin at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon at  Stuck in a Book are hosting a readlong of books that were published in 1951.  As I was looking through the list I realized that I had a nice collection of Beckett’s writing which included his novel Molloy.  At first I hesitated to write anything about Beckett.  I mean, really, what more can be said about Beckett and one of his most popular and well-known novels?  But here are the results of some feeble attempts at putting together a few words about this masterpiece.

The first part of Molloy consists of two paragraphs, the first of which is two pages long.  Molloy is living in his mother’s room and he is not sure how he got there or when she died.  The second paragraph takes up the next eighty pages of text and is written in the first person by Molloy who has embarked on the archetypal journey of a literary or mythological hero.  He sets out on his bicycle and has random encounters with a plethora of characters that include an elderly man with a stick, a police officer, a woman named Lousse whose dog he runs over and another woman named Ruth or Edith (like many other details he is unsure of her name) who shows him the meaning of love (i.e. she has sex with him.)  His thoughts and internal dialogue are as meandering as his physical journey.

In addition to the nature of his epic journey that brings him to strange places, there were two other strong parallels I noted between Molloy’s journey and that of Odysseus.   Molloy is stopped by a police officer when he is riding on his bicycle and when he is taken to the police station he can’t remember his name.  When it finally comes to him, he can’t stop saying it and shouts, “Molloy, Molloy,” which is evocative of the scene between Odysseus and the Cyclops.  In the Odyssey it is the Cyclops, Polyphemus who is representation of everything that is uncivilized, uncouth and disordered.  But through Molloy’s rambling thoughts and rambling journey, Beckett seems to be putting his narrator in the role of the outsider.  Molloy isn’t quite sure where he fits in, he is never certain of his final destination, and he has no Penelope towards whom he is drawn.  Molloy keeps bringing up his mother and is desperate to find her and find out whether or not she is dead; this is a psychologically interesting twist on the Homeric role of Penelope faithfully waiting for her husband.

An additional scene in Molloy which for me was even more evocative of the Odyssey is Molloy’s extended stay with a woman named Lousse who resembles Homer’s Circe.  Molloy runs over and kills Lousse’s dog and after he helps her bury the dog in the backyard he can’t seem to muster the strength to leave her home.  It is unclear how much time passes, but he is in a vague stupor which is imposed on him by herbs that Lousse slips him in his food and drink.  He doesn’t seem unhappy or very eager to escape.  During his stay with Lousse he also recalls visions of his mother and another woman named Ruth with whom he has sex for the first time.  Overall, Molloy seems to have a positive view of women who may, like Lousse, put a spell on him for a time, but he always manages to escape when he wants.

The second part of the book is narrated by a man named Jacques Moran who is some type of investigator hired by his boss to find Molloy.  The change in narrative structure, from the rambling story of Molloy in the first part to the more traditional method of straightforward narrative, felt rather abrupt.  At first Molloy and Moran seem to be polar opposites.  Moran is obsessed with order and structure; he eats at the same time every day, goes to church every Sunday and demands the same structure from his maid and his son.  As he prepares for his journey to find Molloy, he forces his son to pack his things so he can go along with his father.  Moran is emotionally cold, mistrustful, and condescending to his son.  At one point in the story Moran’s son complains of a stomach ache and Moran forces the boy to endure an enema which appeared to be more about control and humiliation of his son rather than trying to cure him of intestinal distress.  I suspect Beckett did not have a very favorable view of fathers or the father/son relationship, to say the least.

As Moran sets out on foot through the woods with his son he becomes more and more like Molloy.  Moran, just as Molloy in part one, becomes physically feeble and can’t walk.  The farther he goes on his journey, the more rambling and incohesive his thoughts also become.  Is Moran turning into Molloy?  Is Moran going on a figurative process of discovery and an existential crisis of identity during which he is transformed into Molloy?   Needless to say, this book is not for the faint of heart who want a light, straightforward, read.  Beckett’s trilogy which includes Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable has rightfully been called one of the most important pieces of literature in the 20th century.  Be prepared to encounter thoughts on life, death, identity, and relationships while taking a trip with Molloy and Moran (or Molloy/Moran.)



Filed under British Literature, Classics, Literary Fiction

22 responses to “Molloy by Samuel Beckett: My Contribution to the #1951 Club

  1. This would have been my choice (I even pulled it out) but time ran very short it seems. Fascinating review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh good, someone is doing the second-best book of the year. I was beginning to wonder. Although I only just read it myself, a couple of weeks ago.

    The end of the book is sublime. “The black slush of the leaves slowed me down even more,” all of that stuff.

    I disagree with two of your arguments. First, even the same old thing said your way is a new thing. Second, I strongly recommend this book to people who are faint of heart – it will be psychologically healthful – and to people who want a “read,” whatever that is – it will perhaps lead them to give up literature for a more fruitful hobby.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jonathan

    Nice review. The trilogy is one of my favourite books and one I re-read every once in a while. Are you planning to read the other two books?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jonathan

    Oh, I’ve just noticed you called the last book as The Untranslatable. I know people jokingly called it The Unreadable but I’ve only known it as The Unnamable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oops, you are right! Thanks so much for catching that, Jonathan. I don’t know how that slipped in there. Must have been thinking of something else. I might try to read the other two in the trilogy. I have a stack of other Beckett books I’d like to get to as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jonathan

        They do work well as a trilogy. It’s not a continuation of story or character but more a progression of style.


  5. Excellent piece, Melissa! So glad you could join in!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A great choice for 1951. Unfortunately my intention to read more Beckett stalled at Murphy – not because I didn’t enjoy it; as usual other reading took over!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great review – amusing, that the two reviews of this novel this week have both been so good, but put entirely different books before my eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: A #1951Club wrap-up (and where next?) – Stuck in a Book

  9. This was a great review. I *embarrassingly* haven’t read any Beckett. I’m thinking that I really should rectify that….


  10. I think I have only read Beckett’s plays rather than his novels. I can download an ebook from my local library called Murphy which seems to have a very similar storyline.


  11. Stumbled on this as I was preparing for one of three classes on this novel. Enjoyed, Melissa! This is the third or fourth time I am teaching the book and I’m not getting any better at it. I think it’s pretty great, though, so shambolic, so I’m trying to get the students to think about how to interpret a book that seems to resist interpretation–or, better, to seem completely uninterested in it.

    Liked by 1 person

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