Samuel Beckett: a man of letters

“There are few figures in modern literature as enigmatic as Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). His dramas Waiting for Godot and Happy Days present characters in predicaments equally pitiful and grotesque. His novels such as Murphy, Watt and Malone Dies give internal monologues of characters trapped in webs of memory and doubt. These works are quintessential examples of existential literature, though they have been described as absurdist. He was famously resistant to exegesis and refused to explain what his writings ‘meant’, a stance which generated exasperation and admiration in equal measure from detractors and supporters. ‘I know no more of the characters than what they say, what they do and what happens to them.’

“A collection of approximately 2,500 letters, postcards and telegrams fills the 3,500 pages of the recently completed four-volume set, The Letters of Samuel Beckett. Beckett, and later his estate, stipulated that the only letters to be published should be those directly addressing his work. Yet it would be incorrect to say the selection neglects the personal because writing described and defined Beckett’s outlook on life. As readers of his novels notice, there is often an overlap between the fiction and the events in Beckett’s own life….”

Read the full review of Samuel Beckett’s letters in 4 volumes on Spiked, 16 January 2017 here:

Michel Houellebecq: Submission

“The history of modern France has been punctuated by a series of seismic shifts in ideology. Ever since the revolution of 1789, not only have regimes fallen – sometimes with considerable bloodshed – but whole concepts of governance and nationhood have been swept away nearly every generation or so. No other Western European nation has endured such huge and frequent changes during the modern era. Yet, endured France has. Human nature being what it is, a strong continuity persists. And even while revolutions, sieges and insurrections take place, the bourgeoisie finds a way of maintaining its social customs, moral standards and duplicities. The French have had to be so adaptable simply through necessity. So the central conceit of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission, about a France under the governance of an Islamist-headed government, is not an inconceivable dystopia, but an elaborated extension of French history of the last 200 years.

“Submission begins by sketching out the ethnic factionalism and the loss of faith in secular institutions that leads to a Muslim Brotherhood compromise candidate winning (with the backing of the Socialists) a 2022 presidential election against Marine Le Pen of the Front National…”

Read the full review at SPIKED, 28 August 2015 here:

Patrick Modiano: Suspended Sentences

“The Nobel Prize for literature is an annual occasion for the average person to feel parochial and uncultured. In a good year, a laureate might be a writer you’ve heard of – perhaps even read – but confronted with a Swedish poet or Chinese novelist who has never had his writings translated into English, one cannot be blamed for simply shrugging and forgetting the name.

“Patrick Modiano is a name that is unlikely to have meant much to Anglophone readers before 9 October 2014, when he was announced as recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. Fewer than half of his novels, novellas and memoirs have been translated from his native French into English and most of those are now out of print. Previously, he was best known outside of France through his work on the script of the Louis Malle film Lacombe, Lucien (1973).

“A newly published collection of three of Modiano’s novellas in English gives English-speaking readers the chance to assess the 2014 laureate…”

Read the full review on SPIKED, 14 November 2014 here:

Alain Robbe-Grillet: A Sentimental Novel

“Reading a Robbe-Grillet book is like watching a 1940s noir thriller with the reels in the wrong order – and with the reels shot from different versions of the same script. Similar characters are played by different actors; scenes are repeated but seen from different viewpoints; antagonist and protagonist seem to swap roles or to merge. Given the parallels between literary and cinematic techniques, it was a natural development when Robbe-Grillet took up filmmaking as screenwriter and director.

Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) was one of principal exponents of the nouveau roman movement, which emerged in France in the 1950s. Robbe-Grillet’s typical Möbius-strip narratives are intended to replicate the experiences of memory and obsession, but they can provoke boredom and frustration for readers expecting linear stories…”

Read the full review on SPIKED, 9 May 2014 here:

Stephen King: Doctor Sleep

“When Stephen King announced he was to publish a sequel to his novel The Shining, the hearts of fans gave as many lurches as leaps. The Shining (1977) is one of the most cherished and well known of King’s novels, partly due to the Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation. Sequels are often disappointing and King’s output has not been consistently good for a while. An author is in trouble when publishers routinely use ‘a return to form’ press quotes on his dust jackets.

“In The Shining, troubled Jack Torrance accepts the position of hotel caretaker as a last resort after losing his teaching job. He, his wife Wendy and son Danny move into the isolated mountain hotel to maintain it while it is cut off by winter snow. Gradually, the evil presence of the hotel works to terrify the child and unhinge the father until conflict erupts in violence and madness.

“King’s two great talents are for inventing memorable characters and coming up with intriguing premises. His best work tends to rely on simple conceits which are followed to their logical conclusions with as little deviation as possible: what if a novelist were kidnapped by a psychotic fan (Misery); what if four boys went to find a dead body (The Body/Stand by Me); what if a supermarket were suddenly surrounded by a mist infested by monsters (The Mist)? In Pet Sematary, King’s most disturbing novel, the premise is ‘what if a grieving man were able to resurrect his dead son?’. It is a brilliant study of harrowing grief and misguided, lunatic hope, with the supernatural merely providing a framework which allows the drama to unfold…”

Read the full review on SPIKED 4 October 2013 here: