Today I finished my 12th book for Emily’s TBR challenge (you can see my list in the sidebar to the right). That is, I read my 12th book out of a planned 20, and I’m in the middle of a 13th. Considering the fact that the challenge goes until the end of this year, I’d say I’m doing quite well. I’m enjoying having a longish list of books to choose from, which gives some structure to my choices but also isn’t too limiting. We’ll see how I feel when I get down to just a couple books left, but since I have more than six months to read them, I have plenty of time and can read books off as well as on the list. I like this structure so much, I might compile another list of 20 when I’ve completed this one, just for the fun of it.
So the book I finished today is Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy. Well, that was an interesting read. It was odd and wonderful in the way you expect from Samuel Beckett, if you’ve read him before. I could tell that this book was written by the same author who wrote Waiting for Godot and Endgame, two plays I’ve read and/or taught, and which I enjoyed in a bewildered, bemused kind of way. I responded to this novel in much the same spirit.
The book splits into two parts, and I’ll admit to liking the first part much better than the second. The first part is told in the first person from Molloy’s perspective, and it’s a stream of consciousness narrative of his journey through some unnamed territory. He’s no regular traveler, though; he’s a vagrant, with no money, very few possessions, and one simple quest — to find his mother. He’s not sure where she is, though, and he’s also not sure where he is; all he knows is that he wants to find his mother, but he keeps running into obstacles that keep him away. He’s physically decrepit, first of all, with one bad leg and a “good” leg that is in danger of going bad, and a whole host of other ailments. He travels around on a bicycle that he can’t move very well. He can’t remember much either, and he keeps running into people who arrest him or insist on taking him in, which he wants none of.
What makes this narrative appealing is the rambling voice, which is comic, bawdy, philosophical, and despairing by turns. He moves from a wonderfully funny meditation on how to store his 16 “sucking stones” — stones that keep him from feeling the full extent of his hunger — so that he sucks on each one equally and in order, to serious thoughts on death, to comic passages on the body, and back to seriousness again. It’s absurd and crazy and sometimes moving.
The second section is narrated by a mysterious detective-type named Moran who receives instructions to find Molloy. This part of the book is about his preparations for and execution of this mission (or his attempted execution of it). While Molloy is endearing in an odd sort of way, Moran is an ugly character: he treats his son and his housekeeper abominably, and he’s full of pride, hypocrisy, and cruelty. As he sets out to find Molloy, his world begins to fall apart around him until he becomes a lot like Molloy himself — lost, physically falling apart, despairing, hopeless.
While I didn’t enjoy the second half as much I did the first, I still loved the bizarreness of it all. This is the kind of novel where you have to get rid of your expectations of what a novel usually is and accept a completely different kind of world, with entirely different rules. I like the challenge of this, at least now and then. It’s not a difficult novel, really; it’s just off in its own corner far away from all the other novels, doing its own unique thing.
For my 13th book in the TBR challenge, I’m reading a collection of essays by the poet Louise Glück, Proofs and Theories. I’ve read only the first essay so far, which I thought was wonderful: it’s an autobiographical essay on the experiences that turned her into the type of poet she has become. The writing is thoughtful and smart, writing to take one’s time with.
And now I need to go choose another novel. I’ll probably pick something not on the TBR challenge list, just for a change of pace. But I have no idea what it will be.